Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fear in the Desert

I can't shake the image of a caravan, alone in the desert. Where is it going? Who's inside? I can see it but I know nothing about it. Here's one answer: this week's Sunday Scribblings topic, which is Courage.

FEAR IN THE DESERT

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

On the hand was a falcon and 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 air.

“The falcon will not return,” said the man who had released it. The figure facing him, nearly shimmering in the incandescent heat, made no response. He expected none, but 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. Over its head was draped thin-woven 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 thin and 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 rise, or even speak, 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 it 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 had, 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 smelled of salt and new milk. It was time.

He leaned forward and poured the unguent over the figure’s wrapped head. The liquid soaked the old cloth instantly, and it clung 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, under the ancient pattern, a mouth opened. 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 and, shivering, pulled back the terrible veil.

4 comments:

Barbara said...

YIKES! What is it?? Great visuals. Write on!

psoutowood said...

Wow, fantastic expressive writing and full of enough questions to leave the reader wanting more. It is scary without being oogedy-boogedy. Take that, R.L. Stine.

Dee Martin said...

creepy in a good way. I look forward to more! You really hooked me.

S R Wood said...

Thanks, guys. This turned out creepier than I thought. Maybe not a bad thing. When I look at itall I see are things to fix. Maybe that'll be the next posting!