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Grand Canyon: It's just gorges

The wind rocked the car-house like a cradle as Mom screwed up the courage to open the door.

"Cheeses, sustained winds of 25 miles per hour and gusts of 55? That's highway speeds!" Mom told the Witch in a tone that meant to cut it out.

"Uh oh," I agreed. I didn't need to know what twenny and fiddy meant to understand that the wind was strong. I'd been watching it throw tumbleweeds into the road all morning. They skipped and tumbled across the highway in a clumsy sprint to the other side. Not all of them made it.

She dropped the Witch in her lap and went back to watching the wind steal the hats and ruffle the hair of the people brave enough to get out of their cars. "This isn't the sort of place where I want invisible forces pushing me around," she said mominously.

"Are you sure you're not just exaggerating because you want people to know how miserable you are?" I asked.

"It's all people who are making it miserable." Mom sliced her hand toward the front window in a You see what I have to put up with? motion. "How am I supposed to concentrate on not getting blown off a cliff when there are so many clueless tourists gawking about?"

She had a point. The mall-sized car kennel was teaming with people who had no idea that they were on death's doorstep. They forgot things and went back to the car. They wandered through the aisles in groups so that the loose cars had to follow them at walking speeds. They swung selfie sticks like golf clubs. They stood in front of signs. They walked with witches held in front of them, watching where they were going through the screen. They clumped at the edge of the car kennel for pictures.

Death sat self-consciously behind them all, its bloodthirsty depths and time-stained teeth awkwardly out of place among the picnic tables, recycle bins, and flush-toilets.

Mom gave up on waiting for the wind to blow all the people away and opened the door. She elbowed through the crowd toward the biggest wall calendar page I'd ever seen.

"I thought you were taking me to the real Grand Canyon," I said.

"This is the Grand Canyon," Mom said, waving at the backdrop.

“It looks like it’s painted there."

“That’s because it’s so enormous. The size and distance sort of flattens your perspective. But trust me, everything is much bigger than it looks. Especially the distance to the bottom.”

“No, it’s definitely fake. See? The car kennel is real because I can see it in high definition, but when you look in the distance it’s all low def and smudgy like an old TV. Painted backgrounds are an old movie trick from before special effects. That's why everyone's taking pictures but no one's actually looking at it. Because it only looks good on film.”

“That's just the haze playing tricks on you. Your brain doesn’t know how to handle the scale, so it interprets it as fake." Maybe Mom’s brain couldn’t understand the canyon, but I wasn’t fooled.  

Mom started running, or, at least she started dodging around people in a more bouncy and impatient way. When we reached the end of the car kennel, the fence between us and the calendar page disappeared. Mom's head turned a degree to check out the hole beside us, then it snapped back as if it'd accidentally looked at something hot.

"They really should do more to keep people away from the edge," Mom said, feinting around a photographer who obviously didn't know about the bad things that can happen when you don't paying attention to a canyon. Or the even worse danger of not being aware of Mom when she's around a canyon.

In Moab, Mom taught me about cliff safety. The safest position is lying face-down with as much of your body touching solid ground as possible and your eyes squeezed shut. Once you're in position, you're supposed to spend the rest of your natural life whimpering and barking at everyone that you're FINE and they should just mind their own business and go around, dammit.

Except that it was so crowded here that Mom would get trampled if we followed protocol. With no other choice, Mom kept to the side of the path farthest from the canyon and ran for her life.

Out of nowhere, a woman backed recklessly across our path. Mom pulled up short with a gasp, checking the edge to make sure it hadn't moved in the instant that she was distracted.

The woman noticed Mom and smiled. "Would you mind taking our picture?"

Mom squeezed a shaky "Uh, sure" through a tight throat. She took the lady's witch without ever taking her eyes off the sucking hole behind her.

The woman stepped closer to the backdrop, turned her back to the void, grabbed the people puppy who'd been recklessly standing there the whole time, and bared her teeth.

Mom shuddered and poked at the lady's witch a few times, hardly looking at the screen or the family it was aimed at. When she was done, she held out the witch at the end of a long arm so the lady would come to her and Mom wouldn't have to take a single step toward the canyon.

As soon as the lady relieved her of her burden, Mom turned away. "Have a good day," she called over her shoulder.

"Do you want me to take a picture of you?" the woman asked Mom's back.

"No thank you," Mom called as she fled. "There's no way I'd turn my back on that thing!"

"Don't you want a picture of me, though?" I asked.

"It's too crowded. Do you know what most people are doing right before they fall into the Grand Canyon?"

"Balancing on one foot and waving their arms? Doing a handstand? Playing hopscotch? Riding a skateboard downhill? Walking on tightropes?"

"They're taking pictures, that's what! Let that be a lesson to you," she warned, as if I were the one always pausing the action to take pictures.

We ran away from the car kennel as fast as Mom could drag me through so many adoring fans. I pranced double-time to a chorus of "Awwwww," and "He's so cuuuu...," and "Can I pet..."

"OSCAR!" Mom yanked the leash to get my attention. "Don't you dare pull on the leash!"

"But that lady had bologna."

"It's already scary enough that the monster is trying to pull me over the edge..."

"The what?"

"You heard me. The monster." She waited for me to understand, but no matter how much I tilted my head, I couldn't make it make sense. She rolled her eyes. "The monster that lives over the edge of a cliff and reaches up to pull you off when you're not paying attention," she said like she couldn't believe she had to explain something so obvious.

I looked into the hole in the earth less than two steps away. The horns and serrated blades of rock sticking out of the canyon floor looked creepy, I guess, but we were far out of reach. "You don't actually believe that someone's pulling you though, right?"

"Sometimes he trips you," Mom said, like the 'how' wasn't the point. "And he is too real. He's as real as GAAARRGGGHHHH!!!!!"

Mom stopped short and stared up the trail in horror. I'd never seen so much white in her eyes before.

Several paces away, a baby buggy lurched toward the cliff. Then it lurched back. It lurched out again. Back. Out. Back. Out.

"Relax, Mom. It's just rocking," I said. "We can run around."

"By 'around' you mean closer to the cliff?" Mom practically screamed. "No sir! I don't know how tightly she's holding that thing. The Monster could grab onto that stroller and use it to knock me into the canyon. And how do you think that's going to go for you with this leash?"

Mom pulled me into the brush and led me behind the bench muttering, "... lucky I didn't just knock that safety hazard right over. Would serve her right... Inconsiderate menace."

We kept running and dodging along the cliff until there were no more crowds and I only needed my ears to know where Mom was. I ran ahead, pacing flawlessly off of the pah-dump of her steps so the leash would neither trip nor pull.

Most of the time, the trail stayed far enough from the cliff that there was room for a layer of trees and boulders to protect us from the monster. We ran like normal when it was safe, but when the trail got close enough to touch the jagged edge, Mom shuffled along without taking any feet off the ground like an old person.

I was guiding Mom out of a very harrowing three steps when suddenly I heard a roar behind me. Mom's hat danced past and playfully cartwheeled toward the canyon. A man stomped on it with a socked-and-sandaled foot just in time to save it from rolling into the canyon. He handed it to Mom.

She thanked the man snobbily and turned back to me before he could ask her to take a picture. "See?" she said. "Monster."

She plonked the hat back on her head, leaving stray chunks of hair thrashing in the wind. Across the trail, a woman holding a paper cup from the cafeteria stared at us like she'd never seen someone have a conversation with her dog before. Mom shot her a mind-your-own-beeswax look and the woman shifted her eyes away, sucking innocently on her straw.

"We must be getting close to another parking lot," Mom said. "If I'd known this path just followed the shuttle route..."

The trail split, but I didn't need to look back at Mom to know which way to go. All the scent trails came from the direction closer to the canyon, where the picture-taking platform was. The other way only led back to the road.

I took a step toward the canyon and felt the monster yank on my collar. But something was wrong. It was pulling in the wrong direction.

"Where are you going?" I choked.

"I'm not getting close to the cliff with all those old biddies milling around." Mom nodded at the herd of retirees lumbering toward us, blocking the trail to the road. "Old people are clumsy. If one of them trips, there's no telling what they'll grab onto to stabilize. What if someone grabs onto me right before they fall in."

"At least there would probably be time to apologize on the way down, though," I said. "You can't be mad if it was an accident."

"There's plenty of canyon to see. I'm sure there are plenty of spots without a shuttleful of tourists that look much the same as this one."

Mom put her head down and dove straight through the human barricade. The bus was pulling away just as we came out the other side, leaving a stretch of empty sidewalk just for us. We enjoyed the gentle breeze from the passing cars for one carefree block before the car kennel ended and the canyon sucked the path back in.

Mom looked one last time at at the flock of tourists tittering and preening for photos before we continued on the deserted trail. "I do wish that we could take more pictures, though," she said regretfully. "Next time we're at one of these viewing areas between shuttles, let's take one."

"Are you sure?" I gulped. "I thought that you said people who take pictures fall into the canyon when they're done."

"I'm sure some people take pictures of the Grand Canyon without falling in, or else where would we get all those screen savers and doctor's waiting room posters? Let's live a little."

There was another bus (or maybe the same bus) at the next car kennel, and the next. But the one after that was deserted. We were miles from the gift shop by now, on a remote part of the canyon where even busses seldom stopped.

Mom crept cautiously toward a stone wall meant to keep the monster out of the car kennel. She gave the leash a warning tug and I got behind her. For safety.

It was a short wall, no taller than a bench; just tall enough to trip a two-legged runner and flip them off the cliff head-first. Mom turned sideways to give the monster less to grab onto and took a half step closer.

Suddenly, a gust blew out of the canyon and caught the beak of her hat. She clamped it down with a paw, leaving more stray hairs wriggling around her head like tentacles. She took a few whimpering breaths as she gathered the nerve to take another sidestep.

I knew the look in Mom's eyes when she found a photo. When we were close enough for the leash to reach, I jumped onto the wall in the place her eyes were pointing to.

A blood-curdling scream filled the canyon.

I jumped back to Mom's side. "What's wrong?"

"Don't do that again," she said through her teeth.

"But there's land on the other side. Lots of it. More than enough for a picnic blanket."

"Stay here where it's safe," she said without even checking. She waved her hand over the ground in front of the wall to show me where.

"But you can't see anything from down here, see?"

Mom crouched down for the picture. "Damn, you're right. I'll take the picture of you in front of the wall, then. You can still see the canyon in the background."

"I can jump up onto the wall. It's not very high and..."

"NO!" Mom looked around for charging football players that might accidentally tackle her toward the canyon or vaudeville hooks to pull her in. When the coast was clear, she gingerly dropped a knee and settled into photo-taking position.

Behind the wall, the monster waited for its lunch to come closer. It inhaled and I felt its breath sucking through my hackles.

"Stay," Mom said, even though I already was.

Instead of lying face-down like you're supposed to when cliffs are nearby, Mom knelt, holding the Witch like a shield between her and the monster behind me. Without taking her eyes off the canyon, she tapped the Witch a few times.

"Got it!" she said, standing up and taking a step away from the canyon.

"How do I look?" I asked.

"Who cares? We got the Grand Canyon picture. Now let's get the hell out of here!"

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