Driving to Sedona from Las Vegas, I decided on a whim to take a detour to the Grand Canyon. Standing at the Canyon’s rim for the first time, I was nearly brought to tears.

But within a couple of hours, I was bored. So it goes with the world traveler: he eventually finds that the world is not enough.

From the Canyon, I drove south on a highway that was almost completely flat and straight, speed limit 75. My rented Lincoln SUV had Napa leather seats, a powerful V6 engine, and a Bose sound system. I listened to Miles Davis at high volume, not giving a shit whether I hit a deer at well over 100 MPH. It was a rental, after all.

Past Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks, the rows of pine trees lining the road thinned out and disappeared as the highway dropped down steadily into the Verde Valley and beyond, the Valley of the Sun. The air grew noticeably warmer.

I turned right onto a state road and drove for about twelve miles before the first of the red rock formations came into view, the color of rusted iron, in the shape of a flat-topped stone cathedral. Further on, a red-peaked landscape suggestive of Mars stretched out. I had the sense of coming home, which was strange, because I’d never been to Sedona.

GQ had sent me to write a feature about Sedona’s famed vortexes. I was a journalist-cum-lifestyle writer who hadn’t written anything serious in the last ten years. Journalists could not operate in a post-fact world. Everything was lifestyle writing now.

“Hello, sir, welcome to the Westin Sedona,” said a man in white gloves and a hat. He held the door for me and bowed his head slightly.

Inside the lobby, I was greeted again, this time by a woman in a navy pantsuit.

“Welcome, sir,” she said. “Can I offer you a refreshment?”

“I’d like a beer.”

“I’m sorry, we can’t serve alcoholic drinks in the lobby, but each room has a well-stocked minibar.”

“Mineral water, then.”

“Yes, sir. Check in is right this way.”

She brought me a bottle of Fiji Water. Her name tag said “Rachel.” I could feel her sex beneath her uniform.

Check-in was brief. They explained that there was an additional $200 fee for something; frankly, I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about the contents of the minibar and how I might go about fucking Rachel. I signed a piece of paper and received my key card.

The concierge tried to sell me on an entertainment package. She recommended the sundown horseback ride with steak dinner.

“Best steak I ever had,” said the concierge, named Monica. “Melt in your mouth.”

The helicopter tour was also good, she said, although personally, heights terrified her.

Monica appeared sincere in her efforts to accommodate my pleasure. Her professionalism bordered on genuine human affection. Whoever said you couldn’t buy love had severely overestimated human nature. As a man of means, I could expect to be treated far better by members of the service industry than by friends, family, and coworkers.

I opted for the horseback ride. Monica signed me up for that evening’s session. The shuttle left at 5:15, she said. She recommended I arrive five minutes early.

The suite had a queen-sized bed, half-kitchen, Jacuzzi tub, and walk-in shower. The countertops were granite, the sheets 4,000-thread count, the appliances stainless steel. There was also a heated pool, a full-service spa, and a hotel bar and restaurant.

I would not lack for comfort. But what I wanted was excitement.

The suite looked out over the resort’s 18-hole golf course. I opened a Stella from the minibar and briefly watched the action at the 12th hole before remembering that I fucking hate golf.


I got a text message from GQ’s Director of Advertising, David Falkenberg, wanting to know whether I had arrived in Sedona.

Falkenberg was a friend as well as a colleague. At least, we were friends as much as two men can be. Past about the age of 20, men aren’t capable of true friendship. They can carouse and commiserate, but there is none of the tenderness seen in female friendships. Probably this is for the best. Human relationships don’t amount to much, anyway.

I told Falkenberg I was settling in. I suspected that he was at a nice restaurant drinking $14 martinis and leering at the waitress as he talked impatiently on his phone to someone about market disruption and ROI.

While a complete pain in the ass, he was excellent at his job. Under his tutelage, GQ’s advertising revenue had increased more than 20 percent for six straight quarters. Almost single-handedly, he had made the magazine’s print version relevant again. He possessed a preternatural understanding of our core readership—the 24 to 48 year old urban male of above-average income—and his changing consumer habits.

The modern gentleman was spending the same or more than his female counterpart on clothing and rapidly entering the beauty and cosmetics market as well. Men, though, were still more apt than women to spend in the attainment of experiences, rather than material goods. Men, furthermore, spent significant money on women and the pursuit of women. These trends informed GQ’s overall tone: how to live a fashionable, adventurous, and cultivated lifestyle while getting pussy.

Falkenberg understood that GQ existed, more or less, as a vehicle for advertisers, so he began to explicitly consult them about the types of features that would best suit their products. Most of the time, I knew in advance which brands had paid for advertising space in the features I was writing, and I was expected to write accordingly.

GQ also began to use sponsored product spots in its articles, similar to those seen in movies. For example, I might mention that as I prepared for my horseback ride, I slipped a Buck knife into my pocket, or put on a vintage Levi’s jean jacket, or checked the time on my solar-powered Bvlgari watch with thermometer, altimeter, and chronograph function.

For the Sedona feature, GQ had secured a spot for a new line of Patagonia jackets made from ocean-salvaged plastic and Fair Trade Certified sewing. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $800. Nobody ever said saving the earth is cheap.

The Patagonia spot was GQ’s foray into a growing consumer sector that centered, ironically, on assuaging people’s environmental concerns about consumerism. Sustainable clothing, eco-tourism, zero-emissions cars, carbon-neutral dining, and similar “green” segments were identified as an important new source of advertising revenue.

Falkenberg referred to this as “conscious consumerism.” He maintained that it was vital we impart to our readership the idea that one can have it all—fashion, fun, beauty, and travel—while still being eco-friendly.

Marketing, he said, is about creating a sense of belonging. And the more exclusive the club, the better. Certainly, there is nothing more elitist than environmentalism.


Rachel greeted me in the lobby, where I waited for the shuttle to arrive. I introduced myself and handed her my card.

“Zayne Moxley, GQ. I’m a writer,” I said.

She pocketed the card and smiled.

“Send me a message when you get off work,” I said. “I’d love to talk to a local for my story.”

“What’s your story about?”

“The vortexes.”

“And? Do you feel the power?”

“I have to admit I did feel something when I arrived in town.”

“It’s subjective,” she said. “If you want to feel something, you will.”

“I very much want to,” I said.

She showed me to the shuttle. I took the front seat next to the driver. I smelled an old woman’s perfume. Someone had been smoking a pipe. The driver looked like a recovering alcoholic, or a Mormon. It was difficult to be sure.

We made stops at two other resorts to pick up passengers. Altogether, there were eleven guests: four couples and three single men. I estimated that I was the youngest passenger by about ten years. Not a single person appeared to be in GQ’s target demographic.

The Sunshine Ranch dated to 1837. It was a functioning ranch until 1974, when the previous owner went bankrupt after losing 70 percent of his herd due to a freakish cold spell. Since 1981, the ranch had operated as a tourist destination. Most of the property’s original features were preserved for authenticity’s sake, including a few dozen cattle, our tour guide explained.

He had his routine down to a science. He probably told the same jokes every night, like when he said, “If you’re hungry enough to eat a horse, I hope you can wait until the steak dinner, because otherwise you’ll be walking back.”

A man wearing Wrangler jeans and a denim shirt took pictures of his fat wife climbing atop a brown horse that bore her with nary an expression. These animals were exceptionally well broken, meant to tolerate fat old women and screaming young brats alike.

I was on a four-year-old palomino named Jack. The animal smelled like complete shit. I felt mindless obedience in its flanks. I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to enjoy this.

One guide rode in front of the group while two hands brought up the rear, providing guidance as needed. The valley’s red rock turned colors as the sun set, from bright red to pale yellow to orange to dark red to deep crimson.

I fell in with the other two single men. One was an accountant from Texas, the other a cop from Wyoming. What had brought them to Sedona? Well, you have to go somewhere.

I did not tell them I was a writer for GQ, since it would have led to excessive questions and flattery. The mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation need a voice, because they don’t have one. A writer isn’t anything special, but he has a voice, which means he can speak for others.

Everyone has a story to tell. Most of the time, you don’t even have to ask. They want to share. They want to confess their sins.

I thought of them all out there, milling about like cows in the settling darkness, unseen and unknown, destined for the killing floor. It would be tragic if it wasn’t so absurd, and above all, tedious.

I told them I was an insurance salesman from Connecticut. This had the desired effect of eliciting zero questions.

The horses defecated constantly as we trotted along. I could not believe how much they shit. It seemed impossible.

Jack unhesitatingly obeyed my commands, such as they were. Really, the horse needed almost no instruction. He marched along in the pack, head down and swinging slightly side to side.

We dismounted in an open area filled with sagebrush, dwarf cedars, and juniper trees. The horses were fed and watered while the guests milled about and took pictures.

The accountant told me about the pain in the ass that the new tax code presented. Very few accountants fully understood the new laws, he said, like he was revealing a secret of the universe. To tell the truth, he said, accounting in general is a hack industry. You are better of using TurboTax in most cases.

The cop kicked at a mound of earth and spat. The couples appeared more or less content.

Being married does not make you happier, but it does allow you to expect less from life, and this leads to a certain contentment with the mundane that is nearly indistinguishable from happiness. A single man lacks this contentment, but he has the possibility of starting over at any time. Usually, this just means a new piece of ass. Each woman represents a new life.

Yet, like travel, eventually I had become weary of sex. There was growing in me a desire for stillness that might be described as transcendental. The Buddha came from wealth. This was no coincidence.

One has to suffer in order to be drawn into the extranormal. Typically, the suffering is due to some combination of infirmity, intelligence, and overabundance. But those who are well-adjusted, who more or less enjoy life’s minor pleasures, will never supersede the mundane.


The group started back to the ranch for dinner in the same formation as we’d come. I was ready for a beer and a steak, I told the cop, named Rick.

“Fuckin’ A, right,” he said and spit.

Dark clouds, bled of their color, hung in the sky. A horse neighed; crickets started in. Someone shouted behind me, “Hold up!” It was the older of the two hands.

The leader rode around to the back. I noticed the younger of the two hands wasn’t there. His horse stood riderless, eating a patch of grass.

We were only about 200 yards from the ranch. Its lights glowed in the growing darkness.

“Something’s up,” said Rick quietly. “Something ain’t right.”

“Go on ahead of me, folks. I’ll bring up the rear. The stable workers will be there to greet you,” said the leader. The group went ahead unquestioningly.

“I don’t see the boy,” said Rick.

“Probably stopped to take a piss,” I said.

Back at the corral, I handed off Jack to a stable worker. The leader said a few last words and galloped back towards his partner.

“Helluva piss,” said Rick. “I’m gonna go see what’s going on.”

I followed him, sensing a story.

Nearly full darkness swallowed us. Rick pulled a small Maglite out of his belt. I noticed that he was carrying a pistol in his waistband.

I heard the voices of the guides. They saw us and turned.

“Anything we can help with?” said Rick in a confident tone.

“No, it’s okay,” said the leader.

“Charlie’s gone,” said the hand, looking shaken.

“Dammit,” said the leader through clenched teeth. “Look, folks, everything’s alright. Go ahead back and enjoy dinner.”

“I’m a cop,” said Rick. “I can help. Where did you last see him?”

“We were talking, not far back, probably about 50 feet, and he lagged behind to stay with a couple of slow riders. When they caught up to the group, I looked back and he was gone,” said the hand.

Rick backtracked, inspecting the ground.

“Look,” he said. “The horse stamped around here, like it was scared. No boot-prints, though. No sign of the rider at all.”


This is an excerpt from Brian Eckert’s novella, Into the Vortex. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.