My trip to the Sonora had been meant as a soul-searching journey, an excursion into the arid heart of the American West as a means to decompress from the oppressive constraints of modern living. I had chosen to go alone largely because I could not conceive of any acquaintance close enough to accompany me. Though I had once had a serious girlfriend, she had been carried swiftly away by an overdose due to a poorly-prescribed stress medication and I had failed to rebuild any relationships since. Perhaps that was another reason I left my suburban home in search of something that couldn’t be found among the manicured hedges and paved cul de sacs. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what sent me away from the hellish mundanity of my usual life, towards the untamed sands of that torrid expanse.

I had stayed in a rented shack in the desert, far from any civilization or paved roads, having to struggle my vehicle across the packed, dry soil and sand should I hope to connect to a highway or even an average road. Though the amenities were fairly comfortable, I was struck intensely by the profound remoteness presented by the dwelling, dwarfing even the house as I looked out across the barren planes decorated with a liberal peppering of saguaros, yuccas and sickly scented shrubs. Aside from the call of a bird perched high in its roost within the cactus or the lonesome sigh of wind against the dry desert, not a sound was emitted within that place. Indeed, I understood its suggestion of solitude.

This is a short account for my time within the desert was ultimately reduced and you, my dear reader, shall understand as I unveil this report. I had chosen, after a morning of consolidating my materials and settling into the rented structure, to venture out into the more remote regions of the park, which bordered on the sacred lands of the native Indians. There were a few ill-attended trails which cut through impressive geological structures that fell suddenly to barren desert. I hoped to explore this area, goaded by the potential promise of ambiguous runes and antiquarian artifacts which lay languishing in the sand and clay.

I began my journey to the area with a bit of trepidation. I was not unfamiliar with the various adventurers who had too keenly explored in brazen narcissism and found themselves the contorted, desiccated victims of dehydration. However, I understood the fickle impenetrability of the torrid land and was well-suited to resist its attempts towards a cruel homicide of heat. I packed water, a sun hat, and numerous other supplies which would protect me from the extreme conditions, for I was inclined to opt for safety rather than careless adventure. I arrived at the park early that morning, a flaming sun beating down mercilessly upon my shrouded neck.

I began the hike into the area rather placidly, taking notice only in the occasional scurrying lizard or half-bloomed cactus with the beginning of a crimson blossom unfolding. The sky was a pallid blue and there were few other visitors to the area, allowing for a complete and total solitude to overtake me as I wandered through the sand and scrubland. A light breeze trickled past as I estimated my route, attempting to find those geological remnants of antiquity and I could see the caps of jutting rocks very loosely in the distance. Evidently, I had a ways to go before I could investigate such formations for rumored carvings and remnants of a pre-Columbian society.

I must say for as intentionally lonesome as the desert scape was, it was brimming with life. Metallic blue wasps with fiery carnelian wings buzzed aggressively as they darted between the pale blossoms of the purple-tinged opuntias which jutted out like many paddles from the earth. From their snug homes in the bases of saguaros, peculiar brown birds with red trimming stared out, occasionally crowing for one of their species. Some sort of painted lady butterfly lapped up a bit of residual water from the previous night’s rain, delighted to be among the summer monsoons. It is incredible how such a seemingly barren world can be bursting with life, disguised at its seams.

After what seemed like hours of venturing past rocks and discarded cholla skeletons, I entered an area of unique vegetation, appearing more as dead deciduous trees, though still scattered at times with the usual yucca and cactus that seemed to populate the entire desert without fail. There was an unusual air in the atmosphere, one which I cannot concretely describe, but I began to feel more trepidation about my surroundings than any usual death by heat. Realistically, nothing should have changed as I crossed the arbitrary threshold, yet somehow I had detected a shift.

However, such perceptions were certainly not enough to cast me from my path, and I followed it valiantly as I once more appreciated the botanical life, the presence of animals dropping suddenly and incredibly, the occasional flying insect or bird all that seemed to grace such a section of the inhospitable desert landscape. I sipped mercilessly at my water skin, paranoid of any dehydration in the evidently unlivable space, though I approached the geological remnants of a bygone era so closely that I dared not abandon my mission. Few were willing to make such a journey, and I should be a member of those initiates with the courage and experience to reach the fabled ruins.

I penetrated the beginning boulders which blocked the entrance to the peculiar above-ground caverns which stretched through the isolated formation. A small lizard of charcoal flesh darted past me, giving me a brief fright, but otherwise I managed to rather easily squeeze my emaciated frame between the narrow entrance which occurred naturally in the stone. The interior was a bit dank and musty, but the light shone through to a pathway of rocks whittled by water and crammed together to evoke the image of a tunnel. The darkness allowed little to grow on the sandy bottom but weeds and lichenous blooms which thrived even in the brackish darkness of the geological formation. I made my way through, at times returning to the brightness of the noontime sky, though once again entering the strange rooms of rock which seemed entirely natural but also whittled carefully. A perplexing paradox.

It was in a clearing among several inward pointed rocks that I first noticed evidence of the rumored pre-Columbian society which had inhabited the area supposedly, several strange marks in the stone which were indecipherable, though I recognized one of such carvings vaguely as an arrow. There were small spearheads which seemed to be fashioned from flint occasionally littering the area as well, and I took these combined signs as definitive evidence of a long term society which had lived within the shadows of those semi-terranean rock caves to survive the blaring sun. Something long and thin ran in the shadows, though I could not see the thing which had entered the area alongside me. Likely another lizard, I surmised.

Eventually, I departed the tunnel area and reached a space which looked out on the rest of the mirrored desert. There were carvings there, too, unknown characters of Sonoran antiquity which appeared then more suddenly scratched in stone, even frantically. I could not imagine what had driven those unknown people to such a hurry, though I was able to imagine, ranging from the presence of settlers to harsh desert conditions to disease. Most peculiar of all, however, was a large drawing of what seemed to be a rudimentary skull, an ominous omen of death. I suddenly wondered what I had entered, which unfinished prophecy I had begun to fulfill. I continued to move along the walls of frenetic scrawlings as I entered the unspoiled sky of the barren land.

There was little of significance, and the fright of the morbid carvings began to subside as I looked out at the landscape and its rather uniform vegetation. I almost turned back carelessly, but I began to hear a whirring sound emanating from a dying tree, one which resembled the beating of a bird’s wings on stubborn air or the endless chatter of summer cicadas. It was a sound I had never truly heard, but one which was deeply familiar. Indeed, unlike the rest of its otherwise generally identical companions, this particular dying tree had three black circles placed upon the top of its trunk, an aberration in the sonorous vegetation which had come to so intrigue me.

The tree itself was nothing unique, merely a gaggle of branches and leaves which had expired due to the summer’s heat and now clung to its nimble base like a cloak of lost souls. The bark was brown and fractured, coated in various shawls of lichen which had clung to it during its sedentary stay in that formidable landscape. Yet, too, there was something unique about the tree, a characteristic which I could not place. Soon, I realized that it had moved unlike any other deceased vegetation, especially in the windless, sunny afternoon in that Sonoran alcove. I reached out to touch the bark, and was suddenly met with a hideous transpiration.

The tree had become animated, as though a creature of its own, and brought a spined branch which had a flat, broad edge down upon my arm, tearing the flesh and allowing for a streak of sanguine crimson to overtake my alabaster skin. Could this have been what the enigmatic writing sought to warn me of, vegetation which acts on its own whims? I supposed we had little knowledge of the world of plants, and that there might be abilities not known to humanity within such separate life. My mind darted to images of pitcher plants springing from bogs and Venus flytraps which bring their spined mouths down upon their insect prey. Could a larger plant not replicate such actions? I fled in horror as the tree returned its branch to its initial position like clockwork, once more silent and stationary, a distant crowing of diurnal birds the only noise which pierced the soundless sky.

I fled back through the tunnels, drops of blood falling upon those many carvings as I ran, staining them with an admission of their legitimacy. Rather than merely damp, the semi-caves seemed suddenly stygian, laced with a scent of death that mingled with the scent of rotting humidity. There was no beauty in the place following my encounter with the aggressive tree, though perhaps that was merely as a result of my psychological state and rapidly bleeding arm, which I was aware would require sufficient care should I hope not to suffer lasting symptoms of blood loss. I sprinted as quickly as I could, backwards and away from that abhorrent botanical impostor which had assailed me.

Away from the loathsome sepulchre of the peculiar ruins, I had escaped to that rocky entrance and towards the open plane, though I remained poignantly wary as I limbered past the dying trees, any one of which might have awakened to strike me. I supposed it was why the animal diversity had decreased, a sharp decline as a result of some carnivorous nightmare vegetation, an unholy specter of dried leaves and contorted limbs which fed on those foolish enough to intrude upon its desert domain. I no longer wanted anything more to do with the place, and so I scrambled nervously around rocks and cholla remnants, dreading each minute I spent among the area, hostile in a manner entirely removed from the usual concerns of exertion and dehydration. My arm bled profusely, scattering the sand with a trail of carmine red, leading back to that horrible land outside the ruins.

I returned to my vehicle and departed early, leaving full payment at the door of my rented shack and departing with haste. I stopped at a local drugstore for gauze, bandaging my wound which was by then clotting and hideous with discolored plates of vying skin. It is a miracle I did not collapse from the loss of fluid alone, though it seems my heart pumped valiantly as I sought to escape an attempted entanglement of botanical horror. My soul-searching had ended, and I had received more than expected.

My wound healed, and though the event remained a haunting memory, I did not return to that evil place, and so my supernatural encounters with the peculiar abilities of malicious plants ceased. However, that is not where the story ends. It was at a seminar in graduate school on insect biodiversity that the memory of my hideous scar was once more thrust into the light of my balking mind.

Defensive adaptations was the segment in which I suddenly began to take closer notice, following the discussion of aposematism, bright coloring to display a lack of edibility. However, the key to the end of this account rested in the displayed image regarding camouflage. It was a large brown mantis, Deroplatys dessicata, which resembled almost entirely a dead, decaying leaf. Initially a marvel of natural disguise, the professor, a tall, gaunt man with sallow skin, pointed suddenly to a discerning element of the creature. There, between its mottled, leaf-toned eyes were three black dots. Ocelli, they’re called. They’re rudimentary sensory organs, eyespots. Then, as if in a sudden moment of disturbing knowing, the professor gazed at me and smiled. I looked at his image, then down at the unsightly scar which still runs down the length of my forearm’s underside. A terrible realization transpired across my fragile mind.