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In The Desert by Willie Nunnery  

Posted by Scott Wilson

The emptiness swallows him and no matter how much he wants to, he can’t remember what water tastes like. Only the sound. Liquid music swaying back and forth. A calming cadence.


His legs are covered with sand and dry blood. Sand has been his world since they left him there—this world scatters with the wind’s sporadic mesh at interval immeasurable. That was all weeks ago.


He did murder his own wife and the man she was cheating on him with. Fact is nothing else but fact, an unraveling that disperses into the air with life spanning steps.


He stabbed them both with a knife that he stole, watched the blood drip from beneath her eyes and from the whole of his neck. Splotches of red, theater curtain colored stains that he to squint to see in the room’s darkness


One day he had a dream or maybe it was a mirage floating in that distance too unreachable. A wingless bird, small and its feathers the color of a kaleidoscoped sunset, was squirming just above the ground, singing incoherent melodies and every step that he took closer, the frail animal seemed to drift further away and its song seemed to get louder and more shrill. Until finally he decided to stop and took no more movements closer and, suddenly, it all became a hushed quiet that vibrated unsheltered secrets against the day’s constant heat.


When they left him they said they were going to come back. Didn’t say when though. Said they wanted him to suffer first. Not to die but to suffer. They saddled him blindfolded to the oldest horse they had, a mare whose lifeless eyes screamed an endless heartache and they roped that horse up to one of their own and they began to ride. Before they stopped, it felt like they’d been riding for days or even weeks, he couldn’t quite tell. Then one of the men pushed him off the old mare and he hit the soft sand side first. There was that nearly noiseless pattering of horse hooves in dry sand, constant, steady gaps in between each.


At night he no longer wishes on the stars. Occasionally he’ll pray but he’s unsure on what for. For the men to come back? For life? No more is anything desirable and the nights are spent trying to shed the day’s heat and to search for sleep only to feel the sun’s burning fingers tapping against his back and neck when that sleep is finally found.


It was nighttime when the snake bit into his leg. Slowly, his eyes were beginning to fade and a light wind was sauntering through the open air. He felt the animal slither around where his bare feet were resting, a wet slime that slinked with the ambivalences of that night’s cool tranquility and he too began to sink into that plush tranquility’s coolness, letting it inhale him. At once, his body slouches. He’s asleep. Swerving up his shin, then past his dry and ashy knee cap, stopping only in the middle of his thigh, the snake is somehow a part of it all, a mechanism more than vital to his world’s rotation. He feels the animal and his eyes creak open. The small and skinny thing is looking at him with an almost taunting stare. He looks at the snake, colorless underneath the night’s unspeaking gloom. A smile finds its way across his face. In his mind, he knows what will happen next, the sequential step’s eminence and that there is nothing he can do to stop anything. So he closes his eyes. His head falls back towards the sky and his drying mouth begins to take quick inhales and exhales and the bite comes. His entire body clutches a little bit but his eyes don’t open and his head stays back. He can feel his leg pulsing and the blood streaking down from the middle of his thigh as though it were a messenger sent to tell the skin below it, what had happened. The snake stays were it is and there is an unwinding silence that wanders everywhere around him as he drifts into a gentle and aimless sleep.


There was the period when he tried to find his way back. Walking through the days and through the nights too. His legs would grow so tired and weak and his feet would swell and turn deep blues and purples. It was once where he just stopped and sat into the atmosphere’s hazy bareness.


Then it happened, maybe days later, maybe minutes later. First he hears the sound, that of hooves in sand. A soft pattering, the unblanketed sleeper’s midnight whisper. The sun was just beginning to stretch across that morning’s wide open horizon. Even though, he’d never seen the men before, he knew these were them. There were four and they approached like shadows of a forgotten memory. Flat images, at the same time moving and staying still. As they got closer he didn’t stir but just watched them. In minutes, their faces become visible. The group looks like bandits, each one an extension of the one riding next to him. Scruffy beards, leather boots, brown jackets. Together they dismount, like dominos; one after the other, after the other, after the other. Their horses are gorgeous.

As they circle around him, he looks up, shielding his eyes with his forearm.


The tallest one says, “You know why we put you out here, boy?”


He shakes his head no.


The tallest one looks down, scans this frail man on the ground in front of him who looks as though returned from the bottom of death’s coldest creek and he answers: “You killed our brother and the woman he loved.”


There’s no response. Just a quiet nothingness that seems fallen straight from the sky.


“Ya’ll going to kill me then, huh?” he says it with no inflection, no expression.


“We ain’t going kill, you, cause we no ain’t killers, understand that right here,” this is smallest one now. “But you going to die, my friend, and you going to suffer doing so.”


At this the other three grab him up from off the desert’s floor. Out of his pocket, the smallest takes a large Bowie knife.


The man struggles to get free but can’t. Two of the group members grab his hands and extended them towards the smallest one and the knife. The smallest holds, first, onto the man’s right hand. There still remains some struggle. Then he feels the knife’s blade tear into the surface of his sun dried and peeling skin and the struggle is no more and there is again a pulsating pain. He feels the weight of the limb dangling from his hand. It’s his ring finger. The warm blood erupts, spurting from the severed limb as though from a spout and the dark red streams through his palm lines.


In the end, the four leave just one finger and they clot the blood when their done with already used handkerchiefs. Because him bleeding to death, that’s not the point. The group lets him go. Immediately, he plummets back home into the sand’s scorching belly. In the sky, the sun is above, fully beaming. Now, the tallest one pulls out a gun from around his waist.


He looks down at the almost fingerless man and he says, “You have one finger, one bullet, one gun, one life. No, my friend, we ain’t never trying to kill, no, no, no, you are going to kill your own self or you’re going to die.”


The four get on their horses and again that sound, hooves in sand. It wanes away into unmoving soundlessness.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 5:18 PM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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