1.1 Riders In The Sky

[BACK]

A PRODUCT OF THE WHISPERFORGE: SOUND & STORY, BROUGHT TO LIFE

[MUSIC: CARAVAN theme starts.]

TAU ZAMAN: Before we jump in: a note on our content. CARAVAN is created for adult audiences only. We advise listener and reader discretion for graphic depictions of violence, frank portrayal of sexuality, discussion of mental illness and existential struggle; and some downright filthy language. It gets mighty dangerous in the Canyon, but if you need a breather—we’ve got your back. Whenever you’re feeling ready and able: we hope you’ll join us.

[MUSIC: Caravan theme.]

[SFX: Night in the canyon: the whistle of wide wind through a narrow passage. Insects in concert. SAMIR and CARLYLE laughing and roughhousing.]

CARLYLE: Get over here!

SAMIR: Dude, don’t, come on, please!

CARLYLE: Why not! You said we’re supposed to let loose!

SAMIR: Somebody’ll hear us!

CARLYLE: There’s literally no one here for miles!

SAMIR: Okay, you don’t know that. Plus it’s a big canyon. It’ll echo.

CARLYLE: You’re no fun!

SAMIR: Fine, you go first.

CARLYLE: Hah; going first is easy. You gotta top me then. Ready?

SAMIR: [Sighs.] As I’ll ever be.

CARLYLE: [Just above a whisper.] Penis!

SAMIR: Oh, that was weak!

CARLYLE: I’m just setting the bar low for you. Samir: your turn.

SAMIR: [Ahems. Then, slightly louder:] ...Penis!

CARLYLE: [Much louder.] PENIS!

[SFX: Both immediately startle themselves; giggling. “Penis” echoes throughout the canyon, prompting an “oh shit” from them both. Their laughter undercurrents the following narration.]

SAMIR (VO): Classic Carlyle. I told him we should take a trip, it’s been too long, and of course his idea of a vacation is shouting into a canyon. Still. He brings out the kid in me and I love him for that.

SAMIR: You weren’t supposed to do it that loud!

CARLYLE: Who cares; we haven’t seen civilization in hours.

SAMIR: It doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here. This is a big canyon.

CARLYLE: Freakishly big, right? Damn, I wish I’d come here sooner.

SAMIR: Yeah it’s gorgeous, I could do without creepy crawlies out here though.

CARLYLE: You’re in the great outdoors! Just like the first men—

SAMIR: Before they decided they’d rather build the Great Indoors.

CARLYLE: —Returning to nature. You’ve seriously never been on a camping trip before?

SAMIR: Can’t say I have. I asked my mom once if I could go to summer camp and she said I could just sleep in the garage, not shower, and eat bugs...if I wanted the experience of it, you know?

CARLYLE: You’re telling me you’d trade this view for a garage?

SAMIR: [Obviously at Carlyle.] Not for anything; least of all my garage. Thanks for coming with me. I wouldn’t wanna get lost out here alone.

CARLYLE: Oh yeah, it’s steep as fuck out here. Think I nearly died like...four times on the trail?

SAMIR: It’s rocky alright.

CARLYLE: Beautiful, though.

[A pause as they gaze, pensive, out at the landscape before them.]

SAMIR: It’s getting dark, we should set up camp.

CARLYLE: Woo wee, I smell a rain’ comin’. Yeah, we’d better hurry.

SAMIR: How can you do that? I don’t smell anything. It’s just a dust bowl for people with terrible allergies like me. [Sneezes.]

[SFX: MUSIC: Relaxed, happy.]

[SFX: Sounds of setting up a tent: pipes extending and sliding into their closures, snack wrappers crackling as they open.]

SAMIR (VO): We spend the next half hour setting up camp. I carry all the snacks and water; so I don’t have as much to do. Carlyle’s much bigger and stronger so he’s been carrying all our tent and bedding. And every now and then I help him prop up a pole but for the most part I just watch him work.

SAMIR: Jesus, you look like a modern Davy Crockett.

CARLYLE: Ha! What makes you say that?

SAMIR: I don’t know. You just look so...at ease in all this. It’s very American-frontier of you.

CARLYLE: Well I was an Eagle Scout after all!

SAMIR: Of course you were.

CARLYLE: Hey, whadya mean? I’m proud of it.

SAMIR: No, it’s fine, it’s cool. It just makes sense. You know. You...you look like you...belong here, that’s all.

CARLYLE: And you don’t?

SAMIR: Well I’m brown, for starters. You know my people don’t really hike!

CARLYLE: Huh. [Reflects for a moment.] Yeah, I guess. How come?

SAMIR: Gee, I dunno, maybe ‘cause civilization is dangerous enough that we don’t feel like wandering out into the wilderness as much?

CARLYLE: Isn’t it nice to get away from people sometimes?

SAMIR: I dunno. Like get caught out here all alone with a park ranger who doesn’t even like you, and...bad things happen.

CARLYLE: I mean what’re the odds of that happening though?

SAMIR: Couldn’t tell you. How many of us go missing every year without cops giving a shit?

CARLYLE: Okay, fair enough, sorry, didn’t mean to bring it up. It’s fine, thanks for saying I look like your all-American white dude, I guess.

SAMIR: Lyle, it was a compliment.

CARLYLE: I know. And, I guess I don’t really know what your experience is with it. I’m sorry, Sammi.

SAMIR: I’m just saying, that brown and black folks staying the hell away from hiking trails is a whole THING, you know? Look it up! Do you see us walking into haunted houses in horror movies? Or trailing bigfoot? Or chasing UFOs? No, no, no! We say no thanks and keep on driving!

CARLYLE: [Chuckles.] Fair enough! Well. I’m glad you’re doing this with me.

SAMIR: I am too. Good save by the way..

[SFX: Unzipping the front entrance of the tent. Thunder rumbles.]

CARLYLE: Now get in here!

[SFX: thunder rumbles]

SAMIR: You don’t have to tell me twice.

[MUSIC: Calm, loving.]

[SFX: Rain and thunder outside and against the tent. Carlyle climbs in and zips up the tent partway.]

CARLYLE: Man, it’s really comin’ down.

SAMIR: Yeah, seriously. Also, it’s a little tight in here right?

CARLYLE: Sorry, I thought we’d have more room for two in here.

SAMIR: Hah. I don’t mind.

CARLYLE: I didn’t realize they got rainstorms out here.

SAMIR: It’s unusual, for sure. They must be rare.

[Quiet as they take in the sounds of the storm, not really sure of how to keep the conversation going.]

CARLYLE: I’m really glad we did this. Have I already said that?

SAMIR: [chuckles] Yes. But...me too.

CARLYLE: Work’s been really crazy, and I know we haven’t seen each other as much as we sh-should, so...

SAMIR: I know.

CARLYLE: So, yeah. I...Um...

SAMIR: Lyle? You okay?

CARLYLE: Yeah, um. Like I said, we don’t see each other much, so there’s never really a good time to talk about things, you know, and, and, uh...

SAMIR: Well. What do you wanna talk about?

CARLYLE: Well. I was gonna wait ‘til after the trip, but. This is as good a time as any.

SAMIR (VO): I’ve never seen Carlyle this nervous. I have to admit, we’ve been best friends all our lives but squeezed up next to each other in this tent is...pretty intimate, even for me. But there’s no way he’s gonna say what I think he’s gonna say.

CARLYLE: You’re my best friend, you know that, right?

SAMIR: Yeah. I’m so happy to be. And you’re mine, too.

CARLYLE: And, well, we’ve been through...pretty much everything together! I mean, you’ve seen me at my best, and at my worst...

SAMIR (VO): Sounds like he’s been practicing a speech or something. Whatever he wants to tell me, it’s huge. But it can’t be...

CARLYLE: And, ah, well, I love you, man. You’re like one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

SAMIR: [Voice cracks a little.] And, you’re one of the best things in my life too.

CARLYLE: And I just want to make sure you’re in my life, even though we’re grown-ups now and life is hectic and always yanking us in different directions, and...

SAMIR (VO): Oh my god. This can’t be real. This is it. He’s saying everything I’ve always felt for him.

CARLYLE: And so, I guess what I’m trying to say is, I really want you to be in my life. For the long haul. For all the good...and like, all the bad.

SAMIR: [Quietly.] I want that too, Carlyle.

CARLYLE: So that’s why, I’m just gonna stop running around the bush and say it. Uh. Huh, okay. Samir, will you...fuck, hah. Will you...be my...Best Man?

SAMIR (VO): What the fuck? No, wait, I can’t say that.

SAMIR: Um...what?

CARLYLE: I want you to my best man. I-I-I know, I’ve got my brother, and it’s kinda just assumed your brother’s gonna be your best man, but, it’s you man. I want you.

SAMIR: As your...best...man.

CARLYLE: Yeah. Things have really been getting serious with me and Cammy, and, I was beating myself up over whether or not I should go forward with it, but then I said to myself I just gotta fuckin’ man up and do it! So, I took her out to where we met, and...man I proposed to her. Just before coming on this trip.

SAMIR: You proposed?! To Camilla?!

CARLYLE: It’s crazy, right?

SAMIR: She must be, um, really special. I thought I’d kind of get to hang out with her more before something like...this, you know?

CARLYLE: It’s a little sudden, I know...

SAMIR: It’s more that, I dunno, you’ve met every girl and guy I’ve ever dated, and you always gave me the thumbs up or told me to watch out for all the red flags you’d catch waaay before I did.

CARLYLE: You think Cammy’s got red flags?

SAMIR: I’m saying, you haven’t even let me get to know her enough to see.

CARLYLE: Sorry, I didn’t think it was a...requirement?

SAMIR: It’s...not. Um. Forget it. I just, thought it’d be like a rite of passage or something. Ya know, a thing that we’d both do for eachother...as friends.

CARLYLE: I love her, man, I do.

SAMIR: I know. And I don’t doubt that for a second. I just don’t know what you love about her. I couldn’t even name three things she likes. I have no idea what you have in common.

CARLYLE: Well, we’re really...compatible.

SAMIR: Okay, like what, in hobbies?

CARLYLE: You know, um...physically.

SAMIR: Okay she’s great in the sack. Yippee. But don’t you think a marriage might require more than that?

CARLYLE: Sure, but...man, the minute I saw her, the chemistry, it was just -- there, you know? Like lightning.

[SFX: Thunder.]

SAMIR: Totally. It’s kind of like when I saw...[Carlyle, obviously.] ...My ex. But that feeling goes away with time is all.

CARLYLE: [Stammering.] Maybe. But I’ve never been surer about this. Like, don’t you ever just get a feeling in your gut, that tells you that you just...know you’re right? I look at her, and I can picture waking up with her, and raising kids together, and building a home together, you know? Haven’t you ever felt that for someone and just known you were meant to be together?

SAMIR: [Yes.] ...I guess not. [More flippantly.] Straight people are a mystery to me I guess. Oh and I take it that she said yes.

CARLYLE: She said yes! We haven’t planned anything, it’s all really new for both of us, but I’ve been thinking about this whole trip, and I just really want you to be a part of it. Like a big part. You’ll be my best man, right?

SAMIR: Um. Yeah, of course. Yeah. Congratulations, that’s... so.... awesome.

SAMIR (VO): I fumble through the blackness of the tent and our squished bodies to wrap him in a semi-hug.

CARLYLE: You’re happy, right?

SAMIR: Of course! [Scoffs.] Why wouldn’t I be?

CARLYLE: Alright. If you’re sure. I’m so glad you’ll do it. I love you man.

SAMIR: Yup. I...love ya too...bud.

SAMIR (VO): It’s quiet for a little too long. We’re looking at each other a little too long. Even in the dark I can feel his eyes just burning into me. I snake my arm up between us and give him a light little punch.

SAMIR: I missed ya, buddy.

CARLYLE: Me too.

[SFX: lightning & thunder.]

[MUSIC: Ominous.]

SAMIR (VO): A flash of lightning, a peal of thunder, the whole canyon alight. I’d never seen anything like it. A ghostly white hand plunging into the golden valley below. It leaves an afterimage in my eyes long after the canyon returns to impenetrable darkness, punctuated only by drops of rain that catch the smallest glints of moonlight. I don’t notice myself shivering.

CARLYLE: You alright?

SAMIR: [shivering] Yeah. I, uh. I think I need some air.

CARLYLE: Uh, where? You’re gonna go out in the storm?

SAMIR: Don’t worry. I love the rain. Always have.

CARLYLE: Sammi, dude be careful.

SAMIR: Yup. Excuse me. [The two of them improvise a stammeringly awkward exit.]

CARLYLE: Um. Ok. Yeah. Sorry.

[SFX: SAMIR shimmying over CARLYLE and crawling out of the tent. A zipper opening, and the rain suddenly rising in volume when it does.. SAMIR tramps outside through the rain and mud.]

SAMIR (VO): Fuck, it’s raining. I mean, I knew that, but it’s really raining. I can barely keep my eyes open. I can’t see anything even when they are open. I take a few steps away from the tent into the opaque night. We put up our camp only a few yards away from the edge of a steep cliff. I have to be careful not to step out too far or I could fall. But I also just had to get away from there.

What the hell is wrong with me? Okay, call me crazy but was I reading this whole situation completely wrong? Everything down to us getting squished into a tent in the wilderness felt very, I dunno, Brokeback Mountain to me! But whatever, it’s fine, my best friend’s getting married! To some lady he’s known for just a few months! Fuck me, his best friend that he’s known his whole life, right?

Okay. Don’t make an idiot of yourself. He can already tell I’m being pissy. And god, he’s being so nice about it. If he could stop being the literally perfect man at all goddamn times it’d be easier to let myself just get angry with him.

I’m shivering a lot now. I don’t know what I came out here to do or see. I should get back inside. But I turn around, and I don’t even see the tent anymore. That’s impossible, right? I can’t have moved more than ten steps away from it. It’s gotta be right there, in the dark, right in front of me, right?

I take a few steps forward. I lurch forward and swing my arms around. They don’t catch on the tent or anything else. I feel my clothes getting heavy with water. I feel like I’m going to drown in the open air.

Oh god. I’m lost. I’m really fucking lost. I’m ten seconds away from a full blown panic attack when I hear Lyle shouting behind me.

CARLYLE: Sammi, are you mad at me?

SAMIR: No, I’m soooo happy for you!

SAMIR (VO): I turn around to face him. He’s drenched, too. He must’ve followed me a ways out.

SAMIR: I am! I wish my body was better at...conveying that. Sometimes it just feels like I’m talking through a screen. It dampens everything that comes out. I am happy for you. I’m just always gonna seem a little sad about things.

CARLYLE: You weren’t always sad.

SAMIR: I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t, even a little sad.

CARLYLE: When you’re excited, or proud of something: it shows.

SAMIR: Ha. And when’s that?

SAMIR (VO): He grins. God his teeth are so white I can see even here in the dark, in the pouring rain.

CARLYLE: Like when you’re with me.

SAMIR: Dick!

CARLYLE: [Getting pelted with rain.] You done getting that “fresh air?”

SAMIR: Yeah, I...

[MUSIC: Even more ominous.]

SAMIR (VO): And that’s when I stop dead mid sentence. That’s when I see something I can’t possibly be seeing. The kind of thing people only say the saw when they’re miles away from civilization, in the middle of nowhere, and tired, and alone, and hungry, and delirious. I see a giant ghostly train of visions barreling across the night sky through the storm.

There’s bulls, and horses, and wagons, and riders swinging whips and guns. And all of them a spectral white. They fly through the horizon unburdened by the canyon below.

SAMIR: Carlyle...? Are you...are you seeing this?

SAMIR (VO): I’m suddenly breathless. Every word takes all my will to form into sounds. I can’t tell if he can even hear me anymore. He seems so far away even though he’s just in front of me. At least, I think he is. I’m not even looking at him anymore. I can’t stop staring at the beautiful, terrifying caravan riding through the sky.

CARLYLE: [Muffled, barely audible.] Samir! Look out, the ledge!

[SFX: SAMIR falls and hits his head on the way down.]

SAMIR (VO): And, I slip, I guess.

[MUSIC: CARAVAN theme begins.]

SAMIR (VO): And I fall into the vast and bottomless canyon below.

CARLYLE: Samir?!

[MUSIC: CARAVAN theme in earnest.]

TAU ZAMAN: CARAVAN was created by me, Tau Zaman, and produced by Mischa Stanton and me. This episode was written and directed by yours truly, with performances by:

Sushant Adlakha as Samir
And Briggon Snow, as Carlyle.

Sound design by Mischa Stanton & Anna Rodriguez. Our theme music is by Evan Cunningham. Additional music by Mischa Stanton.

Our home on the web is whisperforge.org/caravan, where we’ll have transcripts for each episode, links to subscribe to the show wherever you like to listen, and ways to review us on your listening app of choice. You can also email us at caravan@whisperforge.org, or find us on social media @CaravanRadio And if you’d like to help the caravan resupply, you can visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/caravanradio.

Thanks for riding with us. Y’all come back soon now. :)