Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seven in Black

Driving through the high desert of Northern California a few days ago, I daydreamed a nightmare:

Imagine: the land is flat and immense under a sky like hammered lead. The hard ground almost rings in the heat. Crumpled brown mountains line the horizon, shimmering under the sun.

In the middle of this desolation, near nothing at all, is a disturbance in the ground marked with a crooked stick.

Bad place, you think. This is a bad place.

The hard soil has been lumped and raised into a long grave; the stick its only marker. You approach. Tiny birds wheel far above. The huge space is silent.

There's a fluttering sound, like a flag snapping in the desert wind, and the scene changes: instead of an ancient mound, there is now a long box on a raised bier. Strange shapes and writing writhe around the coffin. Ceremonial sheets of white fabric hang and billow.

Seven figures, wrapped head to foot in black, stand before the bier, unmoving and silent as chessmen.

Bad place, bad place, bad place.

You lean closer to see. The coffin -- closer -- the coffin is empty and you start.

Seven black-wrapped heads snap in your direction. Seven pairs of withered hands appear and tug the hems up. Bony bare feet, grey and pockmarked, and stringy calves.

They run at you, and the tight wrappings blow back, and they are seven old women, and they are smiling.

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