Dinner was held in a saloon-style dining room, where a barkeep and other staff dressed in old-timey Western outfits. Drinks were not included with dinner. I ordered a beer and a whiskey for me and Rick. He drank the whiskey down in one gulp.

“What do you think happened back there?” I said.

“Dunno. I’m sure he’ll turn up,” he said without conviction.

Before we departed the ranch, I went back to the corral to ask if they’d found Charlie. He still hadn’t shown up, a stable worker told me.

I received a text message from Rachel on the return shuttle. I met her at a bar in town. She was a bit stiff at first, seeming unable to overcome the divide between hotel worker and guest. She loosened up after several drinks, however, and we went back to her place, a modest apartment on the edge of town.

I tongued her to orgasm and then she asked me to sodomize her. I obliged without hesitation. I felt it was my duty to provide this service.

At this point, her veneer of professionalism had completely faded. It is damn near impossible to appear professional with a cock up your ass.


Rachel sucked me off to begin the morning. Afterwards, she put on coffee, showered, and got dressed for work.

Seeing her disrobed and without makeup, I noticed fine signs of aging: lightly sagging breasts and ass, lines on her face. I guessed she was around 35 years old. A beautiful woman can hold onto her looks until around 40, rarely beyond 50. Becoming uglier is a prelude to the age of infirmities and then death. Insult almost always precedes real injury.

I was closing in on 40, towards the older end of GQ’s core readership. As far as my career, the best years were ahead of me. Over the next two decades, I would gain the money and status that would allow me to remain socially and sexually relevant. But physically, I was past my prime. And I would deteriorate more rapidly from here on out.

If I could have traded the raw potentiality of youth for the comfort and security of my current situation, I unhesitatingly would have. You can only start over so many times. Eventually, the chickens come home to roost.

I drifted back to sleep. Rachel was gone when I woke up. She’d left a note near the coffee pot: “Help yourself to anything.” A heart drawn on the note punctuated the sentiment.

Once you’ve come inside someone’s asshole, there isn’t much left to take from them. Still, I made an English muffin with jam and drank two cups of coffee.

I had a new message from Falkenberg. He wanted an update on the story. His interest in my activities reflected the financial potential he saw in producing travel guides on “luxury spiritual journeys.” Sedona, a New Age hot spot, was a logical first destination for such a feature.

The genesis of the idea occurred during a dinner with Falkenberg. I remarked that people were hungry for meaning in a frighteningly complex and meaningless world, and that this likely explained the rise of the New Age movement and new religious movements more broadly, which seemed to differ from earlier reactionary spiritual movements most strikingly in their profitability.

Research showed that the age distribution of the New Age movement aligned well with GQ’s target demographic. Income distribution was also in our favor. Although New Age women outnumbered men by roughly 2 to 1, Falkenberg believed that many men would enter the movement simply to get laid.

Gambling on the growth of luxury spiritual travel was admittedly a risk. Yet there was also great potential, since no other major men’s magazine was targeting the segment.

Many of our competitors were making inroads into the rapidly expanding outdoor recreation industry. GQ had partnerships with brands like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Eddie Bauer that sold luxury outdoor apparel lines featuring items such as fashion hybrid leather trekking boots, weather-resistant soft-shell travel blazers, and smart casual sun protection button up shirts.

Shrewdly, Falkenberg pointed out that outdoor recreation was for many consumers a spiritual undertaking that placed nature at the seat of the divine. Adventure travel and spiritual travel were part of a broader cultural trend towards “wellness,” he believed. Pursuing both would in no way spread us too thin.

I knew not to doubt his intuition on these matters. During a meeting with executives from GQ’s parent company, Condé Nast, he declared that GQ had the chance to do for luxury spiritual travel what Lonely Planet did for backpacking. Thus, I left for Sedona from New York feeling great anticipation—and great pressure.

So far I was hitting a creative wall. Mostly, I wanted to remain in Rachel’s white linen bed, watching the white curtains billow in the breeze in a state of half sleep. Post-orgasm mindlessness was my approximation of spirituality.

My thoughts drifted to Charlie’s disappearance the previous night. Something about the incident was unsettling. I decided to follow up.


The Lincoln’s adaptive suspension soaked up the bumps and corrugations with aplomb. A rider on horseback waved at me to slow down. I felt like running the bastard over.

Knowing the manager would probably give me the runaround, I went straight to the corral and tracked down the hand who’d been on our tour. Randy was his name.

I asked Randy whether they’d found Charlie. He hesitated.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m working on a story for GQ.” I gave him my card. This did the trick, as usual.

“We ain’t found him,” said Randy. “Been searching all morning. Strange part is there’s no tracks, no nothin’. The men who work here are hunters and ranchers. We know how to track animals—and men, if needed. We couldn’t find a single sign anywhere. Charlie knows this land like the back of his hand. He grew up here. Worked at the ranch since he was 15. There’s no way he got lost. And why’d he get off his horse? None of it makes sense.”

“Have you contacted the police?” I said.

“Not yet. The manager doesn’t want to attract unwanted attention. It’d be bad for business to have a police investigation here. Besides…” he trailed off.

“Besides what?”

“Frankly, mister, I don’t think it’s a police matter.”

“What type of matter is it?”

Randy spat tobacco juice.

“I don’t know how you’d call it. Supernatural, I guess. But it ain’t men doing this.”

“Are you saying there have been similar incidents?”

“I really do have work to do,” said Randy.

“Why don’t we meet for a drink later?” I suggested. “On me. You can talk at your leisure. I want to help.”

“I’m off tonight,” he said. “How about we meet at the Lucky Cowboy at seven?”

I agreed and we shook hands.


Randy wore a long sleeve Western snap shirt, Levi’s 550 jeans, and cowboy boots.

GQ had produced several articles about how cowboy-influenced gear was becoming high fashion. Randy, however, was most definitely not a GQ reader. I sensed that he—like most small town inhabitants—was weary of outsiders, especially those like me from “the fancy big city.”

It was quite true that Randy and I sat on different sides of the ideological divide between cosmopolitan urban America and traditional rural America. But if there is one thing that can bring men together, it’s alcohol.

I opened a tab and invited Randy to drink his fill. I ordered a Coors Banquet, so as not to seem ostentatious. Randy ordered a local amber ale, the most expensive beer on the menu.

“You started to say something back at the ranch about other disappearances,” I said.

Randy took a swill of his beer and said, “There’s been five in Sedona just this year that I know of, plus several more over the last few years. I ain’t as familiar with the others. What I do know is they’re strange cases, like Charlie’s. No tracks, no signs, no nothin’. Just up and gone. Disappeared out of thin air. Publically, the search and rescue folks and cops don’t say anything about the cases, but folks have told me privately that they can’t make sense of what happened. Take Charlie: there one moment, gone the next. Now, how do you explain that?”

“Have any bodies been recovered?” I asked.

“No. Not a thing. Not so much as a damn hair on their heads. For one case, they brought in a team of CSI specialists from Phoenix to take samples. They didn’t find anything, either.”

I ordered some appetizers. Randy signaled for another beer.

“I understand you think these disappearances are the work of a supernatural force,” I said.

“Yes, sir, I do. I ain’t got no proof. That’s just my feeling.”

“Is that because you’ve seen something?”

“Mister, there’s forces beyond man that we know nothing about. I think some of these weird-ass hippie groups in town get to messing around with powers they should leave alone. Most of ‘em are just into woo woo retard shit, but some of this pagan stuff can be dangerous. They say the Indians used black magic to try to get rid of the white man and ended up destroying themselves.”

“Do you think one of these groups has anything to do with the disappearances?”

“There’s this one, the Seven Ray Order. After the disappearances started, the group’s leader claimed the missing people were a sign that their gods are closer to appearing—or reappearing—on Earth, or whatever the hell they believe. Saying that ruffled a lot of feathers. Police even considered him a person of interest for a while.”

“Did they find anything?”

“Nah. It was a big publicity stunt if you ask me.”

“What else can you tell me about this Seven Ray Order?”

“Word around town is they’re a New Age cult. They got an office on Main Street. Leader is a fellow by the name of John Amaru Pinker. Calls himself the “Serpent of Wisdom.” He says Sedona is an ancient alien city or some bullshit like that. He does good business from what I hear.”

Randy polished off his second beer, ordered a third, and shoved a boneless chicken tender into his mouth, chewing violently.

I searched for the Seven Ray Order on my smartphone. The group’s website was amateur looking. The banner advertised “Sacred Site Journeys” into Sedona’s vortexes as well as sites worldwide, including Egypt, Peru, Easter Island, and England.

I was in luck: John Amaru Pinker was hosting a vortex tour the following day. One spot remained at a cost of $1,000. I completed the booking using the company credit card.

Randy excused himself; he needed to meet his girlfriend. I thanked him and said to contact me if he learned anything about Charlie.

What he’d told me was intriguing. For the first time in years, a story interested me. Dining, fashion, entertainment, politics, fitness, travel: all of it bored me to tears.

Granted, the story wasn’t exactly the one I was supposed to be writing for GQ. I ordered a cocktail and texted Falkenberg. I could imagine him reacting to the news that I was investigating unexplained disappearances and a possible cult. To my surprise, he seemed enthusiastic about the angle.

“A modern Western mystery,” he texted back. “I like it. Just don’t get too fucking macabre.”


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