I think I was dreaming.
Yeah, I must have been dreaming. But I can’t get it out of my head. So I tell it to you, and wonder if I’ll ever dream again.
I dreamed a dream and, behold, I was in another world. A land of strange happenings called Isht Drowl. Don’t ask me how I knew the name. It was all a dream, remember. A dream…
It was hot there. Dry. Dust clouds kicked up all over the empty horizon. Tumble weeds didn’t tumble, they just fell over and crumbled. There wasn’t much there, really. Nothing of value at least. I walked for a while, alone. The crumble weeds seemed to quiver as I went by. Quiver and crumble, quiver and die.
I saw a caravan in the distance. A long way off. Coming closer. Coming nearer. Loud, lush, wet and warm. The sound of music, off-key, danced with epileptic steps ahead of the troop. The bright flashes of colour – red, blue, purple – wreaked havoc on my eyes, grown used to the sand and dirt and crumble. They came closer. I saw them. I knew them.
The leader was Itaemor, husband of Tithite. Not much could be said about him. And while much could be said of his wife, almost none of it would be useful or positive. Ugly as sin, she dressed in the most expensive clothing she could find. And she was very good at finding. They had their daughter in tow, Marasia, who had her own daughters in a satchel on her back. The three did not speak to each other. They yelled at the servants and musicians, who made up the bulk of the caravan, and trudged through the landscape, leaving tracks in the hard dirt. They did not notice me as they past. With nothing else to do, I followed them.
A servant walked next to me, carrying a bed on his back and a millstone in his hands. He smiled at me, toothless. We conversed. He asked me about where I came.
“In truth, I do not know,” I replied, the memory of my own world having faded away.
He nodded, as if he understood and accepted that. “Well, you’re welcome here with us,” he said. “Just try not to slow us down. We almost got slowed down yesterday and, whew, it was trouble.”
“Itaemor is in a rush, then?”
“Yep. But more so is his wife. Golly, she don’t slow down for nothin’. Why, she killed my brother once for slowing down to piss. Ain’t that sad?” he said with a grin.
I blinked. “It sounds very sad.”
The overburdened porter shrugged (a marvelous feat to see, with that bed on his back). “Not nearly as sad as it would have been if she had killed me. But you know what the biggest problem is?” he asked.
I looked around at the caravan, struggling through the wasteland. Looked at Itaemor, throwing something heavy at a servant (killing him, I think), and his wife kicking one of her grandchildren for walking too slow. “I don’t think so,” I admitted.
“She’s inconsistent. Why, she slowed us down horribly this morning. And no-one said a thing! Not a thing! Ain’t no justice. And she slowed us down plenty more than my brother did.”
“How did she slow you down?”
“She gave birth. I suppose I ought to give her credit, though. She didn’t waste any time on useless sentimentality.”
I was sure I was still misunderstanding. “Sentimentality?”
“Yeah, she just pushed the bugger out, put her pants back on and kept moving. I guess I gotta give her credit for that. But it took a good hour to get the thing out.”
My heart beat in that strange hot way it does when you have a sudden realization that’s either very good and special or very bad and perverted. “She gave birth to a baby this morning?”
“Yeah. Like I said, slowed us down a bit. Could’ve been worse, though. I guess she could have tried to keep it.”
“She left it?!”
The servant raised an eyebrow at me. “‘course she did. Time ain’t on our side, after all.”
I stopped walking. The servant did not. He didn’t even look back. The whole caravan passed me by and I found myself alone. My thoughts pulled me back in the direction the caravan had been traveling from. The picture of a baby in the waste morbidly danced in my head. I turned and ran.
It was a few hours before reached it. I wished I hadn’t.
It screamed and flailed in its own blood, already caked on its skin. Her cry was hoarse and dry, like something soft and frail being pulled across a rusty bed of nails. Her cord had not been cut. She had not been washed. She was screaming in utter loneliness. I did nothing.
A man in simple clothing came by. His robe was long and moved in a strange way, almost as if it was against the wind. He stopped beside the infant, still screaming in that unbearable way. He crouched beside her and whispered a word into her ear that I could hear clearly above the screaming and the desert wind. “Live.”
The child stopped screaming immediately. Her body tensed and went ridged, as if a current was running through her. The caked blood on her liquefied and drained into the sand. Her cord was cut and dissolved away in the wind. The man covered her with the corner of his robe. She cooed. He smiled. She lived.
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