Stepping off the blurry edge of town, first through the corn-filled meadows, then an untouched wilderness, twisted maple forests, pristine rivers—where do they run to?—shallow canyons, shores of salt lakes—half a continent of scenery at least, all passes in a matter of hours and then—sand. And then that’s all there is. Hundreds of years of walking sand. Wandering endless bleached earth. You could drown in it. Wherever the other side is, only the creatures can say.
What do they say? “I know a place you can go.”
Water burns, though it isn’t water, from the canteen to my lips down my throat through my arteries, unrelenting poison, memories of being able to black anything out by numbing the hours with the next round and the next. Where is the darkness now? A day that never relents to night, allows decades to crawl on by.
I take desperate sleep under a sun that doesn’t move, doesn’t blister my skin. This heat could peel the shell off a tortoise, but no burns come to my arms or feet or face, it only shrivels my insides.
The flash of a scorpion out of the earth stops to consider something a moment. I bring a stick down on its back and cleave it in two, squash the stinger under the sole of my sandal, squeeze its insides into my mouth. Its blood burns my tongue, though it isn’t blood. Gulp it down, whatever I can get, and toss the carcass away.
Asking them: “How do you live?”
The voices come—where do they come from?—“We don’t drink.”
Feverish walking through immeasurable nothing. Not another soul to be found. No bodies rising from the earth, like nothing ever died out here because nothing lived out here. The steady incline up a rapid, moving, shifting hill, a blistering promise of some view. But more nothing all around. The opposite of being trapped in a confined space. Trapped in the bright abyss.
At times I find the canteen dry. And other times when I wake—was I asleep or passed out?—it’s filled with the substance again. Oldest affection, sweet and refined it used to be. Like the blood of someone you used to love, or who used to love you.
Another carcass tossed away—my own—in the ever-expanding wasteland, the void of nature. In a place like this, you start to wonder if you’ve fallen entirely into some place eldritch, a blight on a map in the centre of nowhere at all. Black ants at the sides of my vision, or are they the spots of delirium?
Whispers. The creatures whisper to me still. Where are they?
My hands search inside the sand. No, not sand, soft scrobiculate pockmarked ground. Cup both hands to my head to shut out the light and peer through tiny holes in the ground. Here they are! They gaze up from unreachable quenching darkness. What highly evolved creatures these must be with their irises so clear, rested, full of colour—I used to know them.
They say, “Don’t you know what it’s like watching you?”
JAMES FINOST is an Australian emerging writer living in Canada. Not too long ago he was a primary school teacher, and before that a facilitator of writing groups for young people. He now works in a library trying to keep his ever-growing reading list at bay.
Copyright © 2019 by James Finost. All rights reserved.