Héctor, who had never camped out in his life before, was entirely unprepared for the nighttime cold of the desert in late spring.  And he had failed as well to anticipate the utter and complete blackness—the blackness of outer space, of nothingness—of the desert night.  Though Jesús “Eddie” built a blazing fire that lit up the rocks, brush, and trees for many yards around the camp, the overall effect was more unnerving than reassuring, especially at the edge of the circle where shoals of indeterminate light merged with shadowy ones advancing from the absolute darkness beyond.  Worst of all were the noises—the unknown, unimaginable sounds proceeding from that darkness, from the hurtling downward vibration pulling up abruptly in a trollish grunt that Jesús “Eddie” said was a bullbat, through a noise like rattling bones that in reality was a fall of stones down the steep long cañón behind the camp, to the whistle of the wind like ghosts’-breath in the boughs of the stunted, hideously deformed piñon pines standing black against a backdrop of stars as thick as frozen sandgrains.  With so much to nourish and stimulate his imagination, Héctor could if he wished—but did not, after the first attempt—imagine the stark mountainside ringing with the murderous shrieks of a couple-dozen Apache raiders breasting the steeps with heavy trunks upon their backs, seeking a secure place in which to bury the Spanish treasure.

The following day, he learned that a wilderness expedition entails ordeals far more unpleasant than listening to unfamiliar sounds in the night.  Crawling on all fours from the tent that morning, Héctor found himself confronting a languorous three-foot rattlesnake stretched out in the morning sun only inches from the rainfly.  (Jesús “Eddie,” bitterly reproached for his assurances that rattlers were not to be found on Ladrón Peak, replied that witchcrafters on the nearby Alamo Navajo Reservation had doubtless sent them to guard the treasure.)  At breakfast, he had flies in his coffee and sand in his scrambled eggs to contend with, besides the ancient folding chair with a rotten canvas seat so deep it took him a full minute to stand from it.  And there were the daypacks to prepare, the water bottles to fill from the five-gallon containers, the camp to secure for the day, and the fire to be doused.  Camping meant a lot of work, Héctor began to understand.  Afterward, the trek up the guttered, boulder-strewn cañón started, and he passed in less than thirty steps from a mild sort of Purgatory into the innermost circles of the Inferno.

Jesús “Eddie,” wheezing like a bellows, led the way, carrying the treasure map tucked into the net pocket of his pack and a small pickax secured to his belt.  The day was already warm, so that both men, being seriously out of shape, sweated profusely.  Jeans, Héctor discovered, were not designed for hiking, and neither were the Adidases he had on.  The straps of his pack, containing among many other items the collapsible Marine Corps entrenching tool Jesús “Eddie” had added as an afterthought and weighing perhaps thirty pounds, sawed at his shoulders, causing him to bend almost double so as to take the weight on the flat of his back.  His legs ached, a burning coal seemed lodged in each of his hip joints, his lungs sucked air with a whistling sound through his parched open mouth, and his heart pounded like an Indian drum at a fertility dance.  Jesús “Eddie” was compelled by an appreciable beer gut to halt every twenty-five paces or so to catch his breath, a respite for which Héctor felt more than grateful.  As there was no trail indicated on the map, the expedition was bushwhacking up the cañón that grew progressively steeper as it struggled among boulders and over gravel deposits that rolled like marbles underfoot, pitching the men at times into the heavy undergrowth brought up by the late snow and the rains, the bladed yucca asleep within their folded blossoms, and the datil that tore at their legs and clutching hands.  At the lower elevations, rattlers buzzed ominously from rock ledges and clumps of vegetation, and Héctor rendered thanks to the Almighty he’d thought to bring the antivenin kit along in his pack.  They fought the mountain until ten o’clock, by which time they’d climbed, by Jesús “Eddie’s” estimation, only halfway to the place marked by the curandera on the topo map.  “Time we get up there, it’ll be time to turn round and go down again,” he gasped in a nearly inaudible whisper.  “Let’s eat lunch, compadre.  I’m going to be anorexic before all this is over.”

They reached the head of the cañón about noon, the two of them nearly sick with fatigue, and collapsed together on a shelf of rock.  Feeling slightly recovered after a quarter of an hour, they sat up on the rock and looked around.  The view of the Rio Grande Valley below and, far to the southeast, the hazed White Mountains rising above Alamagordo was stupendous, but of the lightning-split boulder and the sulphur smell there was neither sign nor trace.

“This is malo, compadre—muy malo,” Jesús “Eddie” observed darkly.  “Perhaps the curandera misled you.”

“But you said yourself she could not say wrong.”

“That is true, amigo.”  Jesus “Eddie” pondered.  “The rock must be somewhere about here,” he concluded.  “We must look hard.  It may take much time to find it.”

“But we can’t climb up and down here every day!”  Héctor objected.

“That is true.  We must carry the camp up on our backs and put it here, to save time.”

Héctor stared at him, appalled.  From where they stood, the Dodge pickup was visible on the plateau far below, a speck of metal glinting in the sunlight.

“Not the whole camp, of course.  Just what we need to survive.  A spike camp, the Anglos call it.”

Héctor did not bother to argue with him.  Why, he thought bitterly, if he wished to make a fortune, hadn’t he gone to work on Wall Street and done it the easy way?

They spent the next two days carrying what they needed from car camp up to the head of the cañón in six trips, after which both men were ruggedly sunburned and a good four pounds leaner.  Jesús “Eddie” raised the tent ten feet to the left of the waterspout, while Héctor, at Jesús’s instruction, constructed a small firepit twenty feet downwind of it.  When the camp was at last complete, the men stood with crossed arms to gaze upon their work and saw that it was good.

“If we do not find the treasure this trip,” Jesús “Eddie” promised, “we will leave this spike camp here until we do.  In that way, compadre, we will save ourselves much time and effort.”

Night fell, heavy with the drugged perfume of the yucca opening their tender white blossoms to the velvet dark of the springtime desert.  Cheered by the ragged orange flames and sweet smoke of the campfire, comforted by the bottle of Jim Beam placed within convenient reach of the treasure hunters and by the spreading lights of Albuquerque poured out like burning jewels on the desert sixty miles distant, Héctor felt himself relaxing for the first time in thirty-six hours.  Camping was not so bad after all once you got used to it, he decided.  And who couldn’t, when you were camped so close to a buried fortune you could almost smell it?  He and Jesús “Eddie,” toasting their absent comrades at the Taberna Aztlán, drank a spot more than was good for them and turned in before ten o’clock, determined to make an early start in the morning and confident of coming on the split boulder before noon.

Owing to hangover they got going an hour or two later than they’d intended.  Also the boulder described by Sister Carmen proved unexpectedly elusive, and the only perceptible odors were those of sun-heated rock and the oily juniper bush. The two men searched all day, with a break in camp for lunch and a hair of the biting dog, and returned at suppertime, disappointed and disgruntled.

“F–k the curandera,” Jesús “Eddie” complained.  “If Beatriz don’t report her to Father What’s-his-face, I will, compadrito.”

“Maybe she just got the details wrong,” Héctor suggested.  “Or perhaps the split rock rolled downhill during the winter.  Why don’t we start digging here, at the top of the cañón, and see if we come up with anything?”

But Jesús “Eddie” refused to accept this explanation.  “There ain’t no such thing as half-magic,” he declared.  “It’s either real magic—or it ain’t magic at all, it’s phoney advertising.  If the priest don’t get on the bitch’s ass, maybe the Chamber of Commerce will.  Amigo, pass me that bottle—I feel like killing something tonight.”

They traversed the mountain slope in the vicinity of the pour-off again the next day with no greater success and retired to camp shortly before sundown, to sit in deepest gloom by the fire over a fresh bottle of Jim Beam and watch the full moon rise, swollen and orange like an outsized Spanish dubloon, above the Manzano Mountains.  Darkness fell, the friends had eaten nothing since lunch, yet so low in spirit were they that it occurred to neither of them to fix supper.  “Maybe we need a metal detector—” Jesús “Eddie” had begun, when he was interrupted by a sudden fall of gravel from the steep behind them.

¿Qué es eso?” Héctor demanded in alarm.

“Mountain goat, maybe,” Jesús replied dubiously.

“Goats don’t throw pine cones,” Héctor told him.  He picked up the one that, having struck him between the shoulder blades, had bounced and fallen against a piece of rock, and offered it to his friend for his inspection with a hand that shook perceptibly.

Instead of accepting the pine cone, Jesús “Eddie” shrank from it, his normally rubicund face a sallow color in the ruddy light of the fire.

¡Fantasmas!” he hissed.  “It is the spirits of the Apache raiders guarding the treasure!  O Jesus Mary and Joseph!  The curandera said nothing of this.  We have awakened them from their sleep after four hundred years, and now they look for revenge!”

Another pine cone landed on the rock beside the fire, and then a third hit Jesús “Eddie” square on the back of the neck beneath the brim of his Stetson hat.  Héctor did not reply to him.  Having in that moment recalled Hermana Carmen’s warning that the treasure site was a place of bad magic haunted by evil spirits, he decided that now was not the time to communicate this information to his friend.  Under the climbing moon, Ladrón Peak was a study in ragged contrasts, bone-white rock opposed to deathlike shadow.  Overhead the stars, blanched by moonshine, appeared transfixed by suspense and horror.  A sudden spate of pine cones incoming from the heights above struck all round like springy hail, and then there came the scream.  It was a terrible scream, like the fused cry of all the souls in Hell, rising upward toward the moon and falling back again.  The scream lasted for thirty seconds or more, then died away.  “Hail Mary full of Grace,” Jesús “Eddie” began.  He broke off as three black figures holding what looked like spears appeared simultaneously in silhouette against the sky on a shoulder of the mountain above the camp.  Without hesitating he drew the .45 revolver and emptied the cylinder in the direction of the apparitions, the six successive crashes magnified unbearably by the surrounding amphitheater of rock.  The figures vanished instantly and several moments of silence ensued, followed by an outburst of mocking goblin laughter from behind the ridge more terrible even than the scream had been.  After that came the descending chill, working its way downslope from the craggy heights above.

The treasure seekers lay awake throughout the night with their revolvers resting on their chests.  They arose at first light, struck camp, and packed the first load for portage down to the truck, choosing only the most valuable items.  The rest, they felt, could wait until the Apache spirits had quieted down back there on the mountain.  Or until Hell froze over, whichever happened first.

On the drive out, a couple of miles down the jeep trail Jesús “Eddie” was forced to pull off onto the grass and hard against a grove of juniper trees to make way for a Chevy Suburban coming straight at them, lurching and shunting from side to side in the rutted dirt track.  The Suburban was an older model from the 80’s or earlier, high-riding above the chassis, boat-like and hardly smaller than a small freighter.  It never slowed but passed the Dodge at high speed and in a thick cloud of the caking dust.  Inside were four men and, in the rear, an assemblage of what appeared to be excavating tools.  The driver as he approached seemed to avert his face and swung the sun visor across the side window, partially concealing himself from view.  Even so, Héctor recognized him, or thought he did.  He’d seen that face before, unless he was much mistaken—at night several months ago, pushing past him in the doorway of Hermana Carmen Cortez’s ramshackle adobe in Belen.