The dust had been swirling all day in small cyclones that lifted off the barren path outside her hovel, spiraling into the air and adding to the haze cloaking the distant purple mountains. Had the local priest of the shrine been visiting, he would have thought it a bad omen and said the desert spirits were agitated. Misha simply frowned and kept her passing superstitions to herself; she had enough to worry about.
Stories from the ‘Series’ Collection
From worlds far across the desert sands they met, the dark girl with pale skin burying something in the ground, burning feathers and sticks that held a stench about them like that of carrion baking under the hot sun, and sooty, gray-white smoke rising up from their ashes to swirl in the breeze like tiny, angry spirits with terrible, fanged faces.
Perched above her in the branches of a strong desert tree — his graying once-red feathers hidden amid the patchwork green leaves, a tattered ghost of age and all the conflicts visited upon him during his time beneath the olive sky and black sun — the bird-man watched quietly. Much more quietly than the noisy girl below kneeling in the white sand, chanting and breaking, cursing and burning and pleading like a child sacrificing to the long-dead spirits of the desert wastes.
“We have a problem.” It was the kid.
“Ossun’s gone missing.”
I lifted my head slightly to look out at the span of orange-twilight sky beyond the tent flap, and squinted at the painful light. I was spending too much time sleeping in the tent. It was the damn savanna heat. “What do you mean? Eaten by a lion? What?”
Insects buzzed like thick clouds in the air as we rode up to the grassy, yellowed hill. The white sun burned down upon us from the cloudless blue sky above. The heat was oppressive and dry.
A rocky, winding path led between the craggy hills of dry grass and dusty stone. We followed it around the side of another of the nondescript hills, this one courted by a large pile of broken stones resting upon its side…except our passage by revealed this hill wasn’t so nondescript after all.
He sat upon a shelf of rounded stone exposed among the verdant grasses of the hillside, staring up at the pulsing flickers of quiet lighting chasing one another through the clouds and painting the sky with an ever-shifting series of unfocused light and dark shapes.
The light show had been going on for hours without a single cry of thunder, just the light filling up the heavens in broad, bright sheets, nearly drowning the swaths of stars that shone through the tattered and oft-broken canopy.
His fingers had withered to gray, brittle sticks, worn down by years of rape and defilement, of rampant excess and the sickness that comes with too much power left unchecked and unopposed. This punishment extended to the rest of his body as well, which was equally withered and decrepit. He wore skin the pale color of the diseased, skeletally emaciated except for the bloated paunch of his naked belly, his back bent and cratered with ridges of bone and thin flesh.
“Why do you hate me so?” the decrepit man queried, his voice a strained whisper of age, the whole done without gesture and immersed in a slack wantonness.