Monday, May 17, 2010

Fear in the Desert: Revision

Done? It's never done. But I've tweaked this a little following the notes below, plus made a few other changes. This version is, I like to think, cleaner and more closely approximates what's in my head: the movement, the colors, the smells, the taste of dust and fear.


Curtains of red and blue beads swayed as the caravan lurched across the burning waste. A hand the color of dried leather parted the fall of color. Three v-shapes of blue inked the spaces between the copper knuckles: three wolves’ heads.

Gripping the hand was a falcon; hooked talons ended in four spots of blood. The falcon flew across the sand and rock. The curtain closed. Of this the driver, perched atop the caravan, heard nor saw nothing: a mute since birth, he had been blinded for this task. Rags of no color wrapped his head save for an opening at this nose, and he twitched his head, snuffing the shimmering air.

“The falcon will not return,” said the man who had released it, licking the blood from his wrist. The figure facing him made no response. He expected none. For him this was a humor.

“She will not,” he said again.

The figure was slight, hunched, and showed no skin nor, in fact, any sign of life. Its head was draped in thin fabric that perhaps had once been patterned with a thousand tiny images, or words to a forgotten language.

The man pursed his lips. Ran his dry tongue across his yellowed teeth. Folded his hands so his left fingertips rested on the blue wolves’ heads.

He had been tempted, oh, how he had burned with temptation, to lift the faded fabric to see the passenger’s face. This passenger who had never spoken and who sat, day after day, in the darkened caravan while he performed the necessities to keep it alive. Keep it happy? Keep it subdued?

Alive, he decided.

“Faster, up there!” he called to the deaf driver. At this the figure leaned forward, as if it was going to speak, or even rise, and he tensed. When he realized it was falling he tightened his lips and, wrapping his hand into the deep indigo of his sleeve, pressed the thing back upright.

He jerked back. Even through the fabric he could feel it. Warm.

As he had a thousand times, across a thousand miles, he swallowed, stroked the wolves’ heads, and reached to pull back its hood. And as he knew he would, he stopped.

Instead his hand went to a brass carafe stopped with a wooden plug. When he opened it the liquid stank of urine and old milk.

He leaned forward and poured the unguent over the figure’s wrapped head. The liquid soaked the old cloth instantly, gluing the fabric to the figure’s features. He narrowed his eyes. Leaned forward. He could almost make out its face.

The fabric moved.

He was struck, motionless as stone.

The fabric moved as a mouth opened below the ancient pattern,. The yawning hole was outlined in faded colors through the wet cloth.

He breathed through his mouth. There was a smell, a strange and bad smell. Yet familiar.

He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry.

He raised his fingers, shivering. Then he pulled back the terrible veil.

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