A red sunset burned across the endless flat expanse of the Mojave desert. I could feel the left-over heat from the sun through the material of my sleeping bag as I spread it on the sun-baked crust. Hot as the day had been, it was going to be a chilly night. I could already feel the temperature dropping.
I couldn’t wait for dark.
I went back to the car, passing my boyfriend with his sleeping bag and my cousin who had just pulled a deck chair out of the trunk. I reached in the back seat and took a smooth, wooden box from the floor. My birthday present. It was still too early to use it, really, but I took it back to my sleeping bag and sat down with it in my lap, then opened it up to admire it.
Ultraviolet lamp. A long glass tube with a black, metal hood. I turned it on and shone its faint purple glow on my sleeping bag. My white socks lit up like the full moon on a clear night, but everything else stayed dim.
There were certain rocks, certain minerals, that would light up too. All around me on the desert ground, pebbles, crystals, bits of petrified wood, they held secrets that darkness and the ultraviolet light would reveal.
My boyfriend pulled the ice chest from the back of the car and slammed the trunk down. He brought me a can of coke. “Ready to start looking?” he asked with a grin.
I grinned back, “I want to wait until it’s really dark.”
While my cousin sat in her deck chair and read a fashion magazine, I listened to my boyfriend talk about the drag races tomorrow, the real reason we were camping out here in the desert. He knew all the drivers, their cars, their wins and losses. It made me nervous to hear him talk about it. I didn’t want him to ever get behind the wheel of one of those cars, but I could hear it in his voice. It was his dream, he was going to do it someday. I didn’t think I could ever bear to watch him race, to know at any moment he could be crushed and burning. No, I wouldn't let it happen.
When the stars came out, I turned on my light.
We all gasped, even my cousin. The desert floor was as starry as the desert sky. Tiny bright lights gleamed everywhere, shining in the ultraviolet glow.
My boyfriend reached out to pick one up.
He turned on his flashlight.
Scorpions! Tiny scorpions everywhere, each one glowing in my ultraviolet light.
My cousin screamed.
The three of us bolted for the car. My cousin tore the door open and we piled in, a tangle of arms and legs.
When we got ourselves sorted out and caught our breath, we all started to laugh. We laughed a really long time.
But none of us got out of the car.
We stayed in there all night.