Sound of the Night Creatures
And every dawn, to support my village, I lugged two buckets to the old wells. Their sides splashed over with water, sometimes reddening, flaking into rust. Then I carried those buckets, searching for the markings on rocks, as I crossed the sunken footprints.
I didn’t know the signs those rocks showed then, not until I looked under them, peeling worms off their frigid undersides, crunching on their visionary bellies. But for so long in so many time-circles, when I felt I had no identity, those rocks guided me to the familiar.
And as my eyes narrowed to those stones, dust mingled in my saliva. Only then did I know the need to return home again. Every marking, on the edges and surfaces of those stones, existed with its own signs, its own patterns, guiding me to the ends of my work. And I would trudge on, lifting on, drifting on and on, until glimpsing my village round the winds. Then I’d know safety. Then I’d avoid the time when night drooped past the sun.
Elders who toiled before me crossed those same ways. They carried those rocks, pushed them into the red sands, each one spiraled with white dots. But some of the most precious black rocks layered under the ground from sandstorms. Others sizzled away from swelter, spirals drained of dye to the blurred above.
But they marked the infinite of steps – they did – cut from reds, tans, blacks, or whites. And they smelled of wisps from poisonous mushrooms, crisped, flaming into ashes. The last of the great shamans rubbed evil scents into each groove for protection, spelling out incantations in the taboo. They drove those Fears into the night. And now, all my people survive in suns. But my poppa trailed those Fears – he did – searching for what lingered in the dark.
He left me before I came of the womb. And only stories of him lingered on. His spirit spread through those words, sounds curling from lips of the village. Momma didn’t talk much about him, never more than whispering his acts while I curled into sleep. You see, his name withered her jaw into sagging, her eyes down to the ground. All I knew about him were from letters I laced through other letters, stacking into stories of his height. Those stories made his immensity, because to a child, the dark congealed into godly forms. I could only imagine his face from the throats of other speakers. Their voices shifted around gaps of my knowing.
I still crossed, searching for those markings, only to dunk my buckets into the last of wells. Some days I didn’t gain anything but a haze from spit. But a drop every few suns gathered my life back to surviving. And believe me, when crossing over those stretches of desert, my toes used to burn when I was all a boy. But I’m used to those pains now, used to a spine hunched down, sunken into ridges of bones. Even the soles of my feet clung to hardness, in the crevices in the grit of the land.
My momma once told me I was good for never squirming much, for clenching my jaw against those burns of winds. But my village had needed me, they did, like they needed everybody to be a role, to work with knuckles reddened, gnawed down into time. I felt nobody should stave, should lie in the desert with ribs twisting from their flesh, eyes in gouged emptiness, meat pecked at by the red birds. That was why I pushed forward. Our whole village should lap up water, letting it stream down our palms and veins in skin – I knew it was the only way back to living. If gods be of spatial, I did. But I was such a fool, a nameless one stuck on the signs of rocks, on stories of my poppa, on circles that layered into a dome-world.
But if anybody asked, I didn’t mind crossing those ends of sands. I just had to trek on and forward, balancing buckets on a pole, holding that pole round my shoulders like the crucified. I didn’t get much distance, not as much as I hoped, especially on those days with the sun following behind me, blazing a spinning of fire on my skin. But I wasn’t much for complaining then. I still am not. Jabbering don’t settle anything, you know, least of all the Fears.
And let me tell you, the Fears came before me, before all circles in this dome, like they waited for my village all along. Sometimes when my momma and I sat at night, we heard them tremble. Oh yes, the night-creatures lurked outside our huts. They whirled, coming for my poppa when I was a boy, before my feet swelled so much from those blood sands.
Some dawns, when I drooped in exhales, aching, I had sensed my poppa near. He just sung, sung, sung, for me to watch out for momma because I was all she knew. He sung like the gusts. I could even squint into the horizon and glimpse his black robe, blending deep, swallowing the edge of beyond. He had been mighty then. He swept through my living, wavering in between winds of grain.
I thought he lived somewhere higher. He was up in the spatial circle, a dome where the stars dribbled down his lips, overflowing into time. Like an explosion of the moons, ripe in red, cratered in darkness. He had to be up there, still waiting for us, living for us until we arrived. And we knew we weren’t worthy, not yet. But maybe that was only another dream, another story stacked into high.
I heard different stories of the Fears too, you know. The encounters with them came of the multiple. Some say they stretched off our flesh, swallowing our meat, our eyes, until our ghosts limped down. Others called them a pure light, blinding us into absences. But the chief told me they were what we grimaced in ourselves, a shadow of our living, the missing aspects of our minds. All I knew then was one thing: they hadn’t come for me, not yet.
“What do you know about the Fears?” said my chief. He sat cross-legged near a shade of rocks. His beard twisted round his lips like tar. His mouth opened, withered into thin peeling. I just gazed at the old man and wondered what past lives burned into those eyes. On the side of his face spread a red birthmark, swirled high in a pattern of a mosaic. My momma told me that the gods said he had to guide us in the heat, ration our food, so we didn’t all starve.
Chief used to comfort me and momma when my poppa had gone away. The knot of his palms pressed her shoulders down, easing her aches. And he’d rub a red mush of food on my gums, whispering about the birth of gods. I remembered when he used to gaze at me, his pupils soothing me into sleep. I remembered so much of his ringed eyes, but now, I only knew him when he attended to needs. There wasn’t much to eat in our bone lands except the snakes and scorpions. And even the spiders from the dusk never tasted right.
“I said to you, if you listening,” the chief said, puffing his pipe and exhaling out its blends of black plants, “You ever see one of these Fears, let alone be lulled by one?”
“No, I haven’t,” I said. His eyes lingered over mine. They swirled in the ravage of the day. Even the rocks swelled into shadows, sharpening the chief’s ribs through his skin, morphing him into skeletal from human form.
“On your truth-name, you see.” His lips curled back in his swollen gums, red like blood clots. “I cannot tell you what they are; only what I knew of them when I lived your times. Oh, yes, you are younger than most, some say too young, but I feel your name coming. So you go to them. But what does life matter if you only obey the words of the old and the dead. Don’t believe me; don’t even believe your mother – not anymore, not now. If you leave yourself and seek the Fears like your father once did, you see truly. Then you can speak like the wise of before and after, if you think in words or if you come back.”
“But,” I said, gulping down my throat, “Poppa was stolen by the Fears.” I didn’t like the snake in the chief’s voice. What was he suggesting: that my momma was a liar, that those stories of him weren’t true, that he had forsaken us for reasons other than his truth-name?
“No, no,” I said. “He went to the night while everybody goes and leaves at dawn.” I spat at him, my phlegm crackling into the sand. “And even you, chief, even you are afraid.”
He puffed his pipe, its black strains sizzling in smoke. Then he trailed his bone-fingers over my scalp. “Since your father left, I’ve tended to you, to your mother. But no longer. Now you must learn alone. You question me, I can see it in you, growing, becoming you, the worry becoming everything. But you go and ask your mother why your father went. See what she tells you of him, of the Fears and when he broods. Or why don’t you know? Someone who has the need for answers never breathes the questions.” The chief stared at me, his eyes wet, opening up. “But one who sits in the space of questions, oh yes, sitting in the nature of their becoming. He doesn’t need a blow of wind to answer for him.”
When I went home, the chief’s tone vibrated in me. Scooping a red mush of supper, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t even glance at my momma all that night. Usually we’d huddle, sleeping on mats braided with shells and the black glass of the under-layers. We’d be curled into each other, her throat humming out songs of protection, because the night could burn too.
It could grow frigid, spreading through the village sky until misting on my skin. Even when the stars swirled out, they glimmered once then waxed higher, spiraling in purple dreams. My poppa would be in those dreams, dancing with the grace of a god-head, his teeth blued like twilight. But that night the chief got suspicions running through me. His talk of becoming the questions, of following through the paths of my poppa, terrified me.
Was my poppa different than I knew? I figured him as swollen in the skins of deities, gone for a higher purpose of knowing. But after that rub of doubting, something in me shifted. I felt groundless, swaying on sands that bent down and around me, blackening, covering me up to my chest. And when I’d open my mouth, void would spill out, stuck like the endlessness of space in stars.
I never questioned anybody before but those vibrations came awfully strong. I couldn’t explain them. They were like staring at smoke oblivions, crystals under the mud. And the more I gazed at their gone, the more they sparkled, reflecting only angles of myself. What shimmered in my angles, but not in others of my village? I wondered those things as I lay down. It was hard to sleep when shivering, when my back hunched into the night. And to follow a father that I never knew, one made of stories, squeezed my ribs of its breath. If he wasn’t as important as I thought he was, how could I follow him or anyone anymore? That insight cringed into me, stayed there, and opened shadows into the dawns I walked. In the black of my back-mind, it all came from the chief’s questions. The more I existed, the more doubts came of a circular form.
And night to night, the Fears brooded outside. They signed to our village with infinites of throats, coiling themselves up before the dawn. Sometimes I covered my ears to mute their signs. But still, they lingered, whispering in tones of names. Our village could never ignore their haunting. We could only please them, surrendering to the night, bowing with our knees smothered in sands.
But we did not worship them, no. Even the elders spoke of them with a low throat, not praise. Those creatures existed to show us the absence, the negative of our beings as we crossed into our maturities. Any type of praise would be the taboo. But my momma told me that some of us never returned once we entered the sound of the night-creatures. We became sunken in their gurgles, unable to loosen their seductions from truth, unable to deafen ourselves from their voices.
“The eldest before me speak of these voices,” said the chief, sitting in his hut. I slurped up water with my hands, tasting its shimmer of silvery grains. My tongue softened from its flow. As I gazed up, the chief curled his palm into his fist. “You… Nobody!” he said, standing into a hunch. “Listen, if you know it.”
“I was listening,” I said, rubbing my lips.
“No, you are thirsty. That’s what you are.” His eyes narrowed. “Go, drink. We wait.”
My shoulders tightened. “My ears are here, my eyes are here.”
“Are they?” he asked, sitting down. His hand caressed the stem of a pipe. He paused for a lingering time, his mouth opening, tasting black tones. “These voices make a man melt to bones. His skin withers, drops from his eyes like the sand on stones. It dissolves him, yea. Unfurls him to the winds … and whether his body reforms from the void: that is his maturity or insanity.”
I glanced around the hut, waiting in the hum of silence.
Then he asked, “But what is undone in the womb?”
Lowering my head, I glanced at my toes. They curled into rings. “I don’t know.”
“What is forgotten before our stories of time?” he asked, stomping his foot against the ground. “When neither here nor there existed in words: at a time before the smallest of gods unhinged their mouths, birthing out the spatial dome we all walk in? What’s there before, and before, and before?”
“I don’t know.”
“What is death?” He hunched round me, wrinkles crinkling on his forehead and the side of his lips. “Is there death outside the circles of this dome-world, Aru-Darin, as the fallen poets have called it, or are there births beyond our perishing?” Shadows spread across his teeth, striped in light from patches of the hut.
I exhaled, waiting. Animal skins hung over the chief’s head, stinking of salt. And my throat swelled. “I don’t … know.”
The chief walked to me, patting my shoulder. Then he gripped at the back of my neck. “Everybody thinks they know their answers, their fused-in impulses. Beliefs that rise in them like a scorpion tail. Until they see the Fears, they think they know all of truth,” he said. “What do you know of them, of anything? They’re words, only words to you now. But even words feel alive.” He laughed, his chest expanding into slight ripples of bone. “Yes. And your truth-name is coming, it is. I knew you when you were not even born. And now look at you. Your mother, oh, she had seen you rise well from the womb.”
“I have a poppa too,” I said, my neck tensing.
“Do you believe that?” he asked.
I tried standing. But his grip tightened round my neck. Fingernails tore into my flesh, stinging in blood. “What should I think?” I asked, my chest rising, falling, rising, still.
“No,” he said, letting go. “That’s not it.”
After my visit to the chief, he echoed into me, questioning again and again. What did he mean of what existed before stories or words? All I knew of my poppa were the words of others, their tongues bending with the air.
I wished I knew living, wished my doubt unfolded into knowing, but it didn’t. It never did. And sometimes I tried to smother all my worries into nothing, and then forget them, easing my marrow-gnaw. I had my own tasks to mind. I mean, how could I survive with those questions, how could I lug those buckets across the blood sands, when I only had questions?
Whenever my dread would return, I searched for the white markings on rocks. I lifted those rocks to pluck out worms. Then I’d slurp them up until their juices swelled on my tongue. A good worm numbed my tongue for an entire sun length, tilting me to hear the lingering that wasn’t there, like vowels in the mirage. But whenever I stepped closer to their sounds, I was always left there, alone again.
Momma told me I shouldn’t look for those kinds of taboo tricks. I needed the proper training to communicate with voices. The marked rocks were for elders, not for those without identities, because their messages came from ghouls, from shamans made of meat and sinew, from gods in starlit domes.
But I didn’t need to tell my momma what I did. I didn’t. She didn’t know how questions swelled within my heart, sickening me, spitting through my throat in bile. She didn’t find doubt in my poppa’s leaving our village, his absence marking mine. I was a Nobody, and the man I admired the most, wasn’t there. He never was.
So I stole those creatures from under the stones. Sometimes sucking on a good worm made time blend into a spot. Because you see, lugging buckets of slosh water, carrying them on my shoulders, only made me daze.
And whenever I wearied, I glanced under rocks, just to prevent my doubts and pains. The entire world seemed like doubts and pains. But then would come a breaking in time from the struggle, a glimpse into the absence of everything, until struggle didn’t grind in a ritual anymore. I’d just be floating, floating, through the womb of myself, writhing into that void of feeling, becoming undone in its spilling of red fluid. But just as I got situated down into bliss, the pain returned, just like all Fears did in the night.
But maybe that was only me. Maybe it was because I felt my youth shrinking into the suns of my truth-name. Before our truth-names, people in my village weren’t considered born yet. Our identities were only a pre-birth, a ghost of flesh, until we’re joined into the whole of our village.
But I wanted to belong for once; I wanted my momma to call me by the name I chose. There was power in names, swirls of energy under each word. Words existed as bones, and then they formed tissue and muscles and fused to the flesh, to forces of momentum, until dying and then being reborn in another. But what came before those words, what existed before their power?
Sometimes I wondered about those questions on my low walks, on dawns when I found a good worm, squirting its blood on the swells of my lips, tasting its momentum, tasting its seeds, as I transformed for a while. And for only that short time, I’d blur into nothing, then into another, and then into another named. I didn’t have to think then. I didn’t have to deal with the struggle of circles splitting into other circles, where nothing made sense anymore, where not even the questions had any purpose anymore.
“But Non,” my momma told me. “In all your walks and times, you don’t listen. You coming in here, drinking half your work away every dawn before you return, then you playing like you wear a clay mask. I know what you do. But what in gods’ dome makes you so hidden?” She sighed and then said, “You know I care about you – the word of that cannot be denied. But you don’t follow, you don’t even talk anymore. And I’ve got to tell you every time, you got to be coming home, you got to be listening. If not for me then for your own being.”
“It’s not like that,” I said, scooping out a bowl of grubs, pinching one in between my fingers. “I do listen, I do, but nobody answers me when I ask them questions, even when I talk to the chief. He thinks I’m a fool. A nobody, not worthy of life.” My hand squished the grub apart, its juices squirting into the bowl. I glanced at its body, curling, wheezing into black steam.
“If your father was here…”
“But he’s not here, he’s not,” I said, biting my cheek. “He’s dead.”
She gazed at me, her eyes ringed in golden-brown.
Then she sat next to me, brushing my hand. Her calluses rubbed against my skin. “He was always going out, trying to figure things like you. Now he not dead, you know, he just in the other world, waiting for us.”
“He was trying to understand,” I said. “Wasn’t he?”
“He don’t stop questioning ‘till he get in with the Fears. You know this,” she said, rubbing my hand. “I don’t want you to go like he did, stuck in those shadows for the forever. If you only followed instead, you’d see life doesn’t have to seek the answers.”
I stripped her hand off of mine, stood on the floor. My toes spread over mats laced into beads, beads encrusted into the grime. “How can I learn if I don’t go into the unknown? Isn’t that what my truth-name is all about, momma?”
“There needs to be a provider here,” she said. “And you know I can’t … I can’t do more than my worth. I’m afraid, my boy, that I lived the long days before you came from me. The desert has made me old.”
“You do fine,” I said, lip trembling. “You’re all I know anymore.”
“Then listen to me … please … just be the boy I want you to be.”
“But I’m not a child,” I said.
“Then who’re you?” she asked, sighing down to the slump of her back.
“I… I don’t know yet.”
She sighed. “When you go and see the Fears, you know. You know.”
One dawn after our talk, after all our talks, my path crumbled into unknown. My truth-name arose unexpectedly, even though its hints brooded in my momma and the chief. It birthed from beyond my visions of a future, because I always expected to know the high of the quest, but never realized it as a reality, as that to walk through. Never on the dawn I lived, never, did I think my truth-name had started. It was always in a forever away sun of time. And then it rumbled, over and above, as a zenith of my blood.
But unlike most people in my village, my truth-name came early for me. My chest stuck out, muscled from carrying buckets. And my arms burned before my voiced changed into deep. Even hairs didn’t sprout on my legs, on my skin of bare. My scalp, however, was of the longest growth. Braided and strung down my shoulders and chest, my hair blackened in heat. The chief later told me how he glimpsed my truth-name. He visited my hut once. And after I suckled the red mush of food from his finger, I gazed into the stars. I gazed and didn’t waver away from its glory.
But as my truth day arose, the whole village saw the signs before me. They stared at me, their heads down, eyes furrowed, whispering with their lips pieced of the red wood. Most people got their name after they were ripe to their flesh, able to guide, listen, hunt for the meat of reptiles, and provide the spear for themselves and others. My own truth came of something else, something unworldly.
That dawn I knew I had moved into the first circle from my primitive one, a circle that repeated indefinitely. So as I encountered the Fears, I’d trace through a circle not visible to me before. But to be an elder was to spread through those circles and envision them from the outside, from beyond the domes of domes. One day I hoped I could trace my fingers on an outside. Now, as I think back, I realize that even my urge to escape any circle only leaves me in another circle, stuck into spaces and times, rather than being present, being in now. There is nothing outside the circles, is there, but more circles?
But on that dawn my momma nudged me awake. Her eyes squinted, swelled into red hangs of skin.
“What is it?” I asked.
She stared at me. “Chief wanting to see you.”
I brushed momma’s hair away from her face. Her skin bumped with trembles. “What’s wrong?” I asked, rubbing her back down her spine, holding her from her painful slouch.
She lowered her eyes. “You go and see.”
I walked through the village; crossing in between huts spiraled with clay. Some elders watched me, beat on the drums of scales, steady like the dried heart of the spider. Their faces splotched in reds, whites, striped down their noses, above their mouths. Their eyes lowered as I passed through. I glanced at their faces wrinkled in skin, weathered from the beat suns. Dawn sparked in the horizon in the shade of blood. I sucked on my bottom lip while I walked on, trudging through the sand. Children laughed, giggled, threw bones at me. They clattered in the dust, prophesying my quest of becoming, as a horse or a snake.
I stepped into the chief’s hut, squinting. Through cracks in the roof, the sun sparkled in crimson. “Sit down, Nobody,” said the chief from the edge of his space. Smoke from his pipe blended into the sunlight.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Always questioning.” He smiled. “But do you see?”
My heart thumped and thumped. Drums swelled outside the chief’s hut.
“My name,” I said.
“The Fears,” he said.
Silence lingered but for his lips, puffing his pipe.
“Am I ready?” I asked.
He smiled, his eyes wrinkling into slivers of moon. “Would you like some?” he asked.
I glanced at him, at the red sands. Then he placed a pipe in my hands.
“Dawn has almost fallen,” he said. “It will fall again and again.”
I puffed the pipe, its smoke stinging inside. I coughed and coughed and coughed.
He chuckled. “Not so much,” he said. “There is still tea.”
My eyes blurred. “When?”
He didn’t speak. When, when, when, echoed into my head. When, when, when, seemed like no real word. When, when, when. I sat there with the chief, staring into his eyes. His pupils expanded, browning, bluing, yellowing, before contracting to points of night. The sun lowered in cracks in his hut, shading the space. All the light bled into shadows, into scatters of fire, wavering over our bodies.
The chief passed me tea in a clay bowl. Sipping, I became that when, a time-fluid here, flowing into another here, into another here, into another. Time spread like water in the wood of buckets, spiraling into drops. I slurped the tea, its heat burning inside, glowing down my throat.
“What do you see?” he asked.
His face blended into beads fused in the mat. Each bead fixed to another bead, shining into micro-domes of where all the other villages were. In those other villages, huts were built, where on the ground, beads laced into other mats, where even more micro-domes existed. Each bead sparkled into another like circles inside circles inside circles. I tried speaking. Words bunched on my tongue, unable to be what they were. And if I did say anything, I would’ve burped out nonsense.
He sighed. His sigh extended beyond me, blurring into winds. “Now you go, walk on each foot toward the forward and forever, becoming a path of everything. Follow only your own sight and not others.”
I stared at him for a long time. Then I blinked. My eyelids folded over my other eyelids like stacks of skin. Then my gaze deepened, brimming outward, when I opened my eyes once again.
The chief opened the back of the hut, shading trails of sands before me. Dreams beat into drums beat into dreams, pounding my ears into a blood-ringing. I stepped outside, alone. Always alone.
The hut enclosed behind me. My eyes touched the night. The drums swept through me as I climbed across the miles of sand. How had I left the village so suddenly, feet gliding on grains on grains on grains? My toes spread around like roots, fused into the grit of the ground. All I knew was to follow my old paths, the paths I trudged before as a Nobody, carrying buckets to the wells.
As I passed the markings of rocks, their patterns spread over me, blurring my vision into red. The night bloodied to protect me from the Fears. It had sacrificed itself. But I heard the Fears still. Did they call to me, humming, the dance of their voices, a sway in the unknown? I became a nomad then, my legs working themselves. My lungs burned, smoking like a crimson fog.
My momma swept to the black of my back-mind. I felt within myself spaces in between my bones. Absences of realities were realities, were they not, the black framing the white, which shifted to be its own structure of emptiness. Was my poppa like the spaces, stories I knew of him only as real as ignorance?
I walked on, shoulders lowered in the dark, moons leaning down on me. I felt their weight, so high, pressing on my skin. And I fused with the markings on rocks. They shifted into absences, into nothing I could follow anymore. It was those rocks which resembled the spatial world round circles, the emptiness round heights and distances. That must be where my poppa existed, why I must always walk on. But how could I follow what was not around, the absences of what existed before words?
The Fears took my poppa away, took him high, high, higher into the negative. I wished I could glide in reverse, going backward in space to grasp his ankle, pulling him down to this present moment. I wished I could ask him questions about where he really went, why I couldn’t press my fingers on his face, brushing his skin, rubbing his eyelids for visions that only he had.
All I knew was this: he was dead, dead, swallowed in absences. Dead. Would I have to be dead to know where he went, waiting for sandstorms to blow upon my flesh, layering grains over my open eyes?
Screams swirled into the open space of the desert. And only I stood out there, waiting, walking on in the direction of the unknown. My eyes blurred into red stains from those markings. I felt their spirals burn my skin, etching paths within me. But I had come this far, I had. Not even home had meaning anymore, only the quest of forward momentum, the limb-movement against the screech of the Fears.
I couldn’t see those night creatures but they whirled round me, murmuring in phrases I thought I knew. They whispered yes, yes, yes. Follow through the sands, glide over them, let my feet drift off the ground and spin toward the skies. And I felt myself drift, trailing above, feet snapping off the ground.
How far did my poppa go? Did he ever stop moving until he merged into spaces above him, until he formed with the sky? He must’ve gone so far that home felt lost, blurred to who he was. He must’ve imagined himself nights away, plucking visions from under the rocks. Then he followed them and followed them, until he tasted purity past all the sands.
I didn’t know if I should go on or turn back, cheek to stings of wind, my flesh burning into red tears of muscle. The Fears whispered to me again, telling me to trail behind my poppa’s only path. They wanted me to never stop moving, never, until all my fluids had slugged off my bones. Like a grub squirted into a bowl, wheezing, writhing into a hiss of its old breath.
But why must I listen? Why? As my mind silenced itself into why, the Fears squealed even louder, their voices pitched into pressuring. Then their seductions shifted again and again, lingering with a heavy under-breath. That breath was the doubt of my chief; it was the sorrow I ignored all my youth. The need to only push on and not think, to follow and obey, to listen to my momma, to do everything for everything, to do nothing, to become somebody with a name, to remain a Nobody, crushed me. All those possibilities split as the Fears screamed the night.
But I knew one thing in my quietude: I lived my own role. Unlike poppa, I would not leave. I wouldn’t betray my village to chase after voices of seduction: the high squeals that threatened to lure me into nothingness, into death.
Because when I thought back to the village, I could still glimpse the wrinkles round my momma’s face, her twisted lips, her skin burnt under a trembling of suns. She waited for me there, because she could hardly tend to herself anymore. All her living had shrunken her down.
Once she weaved baskets, sliced scales off the reptiles, dyed strings of cloth to my skin, filtered the water into pure, wrapped bandages round my head when I fell. But her fingers trembled now, they were long and bone and unable to stop pain, the pain of her swelling joints, the rash on her skin, the lonely slow of her walk.
She was what my father left when she no longer had the ripe. I knew that. He chased the Fears in his walk of exile. But I was not him, I couldn’t be. I was strung to the nerves of my village, alive not only for me, but for others. For others with every hot cringe of pain, there was no “I” separate from “them.” If I floated to those domes above, I couldn’t be in those below. With an absence of one, there was the manifestation of the other, a dawn to the shadows, a water to the sands.
My head pounded at that thought. It collapsed me to my knees. I gazed up at the night, exhaling, feeling the stars tilt round me. From the winds, from the sky, from the ground, from the dome-world that burned into yellow and orange, beams of light had blinded me from above.
My head hit a threshold of blood, pulping in my ears. The entire night spotted in the flames of distance. My eyes squinted open, and then opened again, peeling back from layers of inner-skin.
I pushed my palms into the sand, lifted myself, walked on. Night swirled, brimming in embers. Then it collected on the horizon, every particle of light, forming upward to the sun. Shadows of rocks tilted in, swaying round my body, when the dawn finally broke.
My eyes cleared as the sun purpled over the sands. The tea still burned within me, but now, my peak had gone down. Now my fusion shifted, separating me into human form. But as I walked on, I still felt outside myself, watching my body with open eyes, eyes peeled into an earlier notion of time.
From a distant plane, a child of my skin trudged on, holding buckets of water. His feet crunched against the grains, his shoulders swayed with the weight of his work. I stood there, gazing at him, wondering about my own village, about my own forgotten people.
As he passed near, he glanced up at me. Black hair shagged over his eyes. He looked like I once looked, smelling of dust.
Then he smiled, dimples deepening into his cheeks.
He swallowed as I swallowed. He breathed as I breathed.
“’Allo,” he said. And I said hello without realizing as well.
“Do you know where I am?” I asked, gazing at the open sands.
“Follow me ‘n I take you before ‘long. Not many come here no more. The water’s almost all dried up.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“We just move on like we always have,” he said, brown eyes widening.
“Let me help you with that.” I reached for the buckets round his shoulders.
“No, no,” he said, stepping back. “Ma said I need to work for me, not you.”
“You know,” I said, glancing behind his head at the red halo of sun. “I’ll find my own way back.”
“Sure,” he said, shrugging, his buckets splashing inside. “Suits you, suits me.”
I nodded to the boy as he trudged on, carrying his buckets in a swing of a step. His hair dripped with sweat, dribbling down his nose. I watched him for a long moment until he shrunk to the point of a dot, black in the foreground of the sun. I exhaled, sensing not a new name inside me, but an old one, one breathing into the black of my back-mind. My father’s absence of a truth-name was my absence of him. I wasn’t him but I wasn’t me either.
I thought I’d be special for living that night but I wasn’t. I wasn’t anything other than what I had always been, a Nobody, a seeker with no answers, only questions. I trudged on, feet swelled and beaten into sores. Sweat bunched round my lips, tasting of salt and air. And I searched for the white markings on rocks. But they no longer showed a way back.