Through The Shadowlands

Prologue

February 2012

The tent was possessed. Death Valley’s wind breathed a wicked life into it, whipping it into a writhing demon intent on freeing itself from my grasp and flying off on some maniacal mission. Determined to put it up, I engulfed as much of the tent in my arms as I could, stomped on it with both feet, tugged on the strip of webbing holding a grommet, and strained to bend the tip of the tent pole toward the hole. I howled with effort and the sound tore away on the wind, just as the tent so wanted to.

I knew I was breaking my own cardinal rule: Stop When You’re Tired. That rule had burned itself into my brain over the dozen years since I’d first developed the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, the illness I had come to the desert attempting to outwit. Even mild exertion could leave me nearly paralyzed the next day, sometimes unable even to turn over in bed.

Now I was spending all my strength to wrestle with this nylon and fiberglass fiend. Before I left home, I’d made sure I was capable of setting up this borrowed hurricane-grade tent, but I hadn’t counted on a hurricane-grade wind. I was miles up a jeep trail off a long dirt road in the middle of the godforsaken desert, alone except for my dog. Should I wake up crippled and call for help, my shouts would shred in the wind long before they reached a human ear.

On top of all that, I didn’t even much believe in the mission that brought me to the desert in the first place. I had come to Death Valley on the theory that I needed to get clear of mold—from moldy buildings, from mold in the outside air, from mold in my belongings. Strangers on the Internet had told me there was a good chance that mold had triggered my illness and that by strictly avoiding it, I would eventually recover. I had never had any obvious reaction to mold in the past, but my Internet advisors told me that when I returned home after two weeks in the desert, the mold in my own house and belongings would likely make me dramatically sick. And then, at last, I would know what was doing me in.

This whole thing is probably a crock of shit, I’d thought, but at least it’ll make a good story.

The truth was, though, that I was desperate to get better...

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