by Alan Dale Dalby
Time fails my mind as I follow myself through the wasteland. I have no direction, no path to be seen beneath my feet. I step one foot after the other aimlessly. They are blistered and bloody. The skin on my souls cracks. I can't think of the things I wish for in times of leisure. I can only beg the wasteland to end this misery. Death would release me but I don't ask for it. I ask for the way out of this place.
I see the eyes of the beast. They are set upon me as I struggle just to keep on moving at this steady pace. It is such a slow pace. I know as it begins to follow me that I could not outrun this beast. Is it the gift of the wasteland to send this thing? Will it end my torture at long last, those sharp teeth gripping my throat and ripping it open? My body contains this lifeblood that sustains me. Should the beast spill it across the wasteland I would indeed be released, but to what end?
I am not ready to find what awaits me should I fall to this desolate place. I have not the faith to pray for this beast to let me go on surviving. I can only keep moving as the beast continues its taunting pursuit. It could take me out with such ease. The blur of the furry body stops from time to time and watches. It watches me struggle along with its large burning eyes. They seem hollow at one glance, while deeply in thought upon the next. I can't understand this creature at all. I don't attempt to.
Above me I hear a screeching in the darkness of the blank skies. The beast watches with a flawed intensity as the winged creature falls to the earth. It barely catches itself with a frantic flutter of its wings just before it finds the ground. I see it perch upon a cactus that had not been there before the bird landed, if it is indeed a bird at all. It seems twisted and wrong to me. The shape of the thing is off. Its feathers are warn and damaged. This creature is far from strong. It has become lost in the wasteland with me, a fellow traveler that seems to know as little of how it came to be here as I.
This thing perched on the cactus is familiar to me. The battered body and dried beak, the tangled fluff underneath the feathers; this poor disoriented thing that has crashed into being is a kindred spirit in this desolate place. The wasteland has found me a companion at last, but still no end to my struggle. Shall we suffer together the fate of starvation? Will I come to know this fellow soul just in time to die along side it? I hope this is not what is meant to be. I know that no creature so small and frail could understand the things I in turn struggle to wrap my conscious around.
The beast is moving again. We are both in its clever sights now, the wounded bird and I. A small treat to go along with the main course or perhaps this lost little bird will serve as an appetizer. Is it that the beast has not come for me yet because I do not properly wet its appetite? I think to shoo the poor bird away and perhaps to run but know neither would stop the slaughter. I feel my cracked skin burst open on the souls of my ravaged feet and it is time. I hold out my arms and scream, yell; roar at the beast. This outpour, this burst of emotions has been bubbling to the surface long before the beast had come along.
In a flash it has rushed to me with those glowing eyes melting a passage straight through me. I feel the beast enter my body, but there is pain of neither claw nor fang in this sensation. It is warmth and strength instead filling me from my numbed toes to my swirling head. The throbbing ache in my brain vanishes and I can think clearly once more. The blast of light from the eyes of the beast open my own to see what is truly perched before me.
The vulture that had been awaiting my demise caws and screeches like death itself wounded. I see that it wants to take wing from me and make an escape. The fire in my eyes, the beast's eyes, our two selves combined; that fire flares outward and catches the tail feathers of the twisted vulture. As it takes to the skies it is fully engulfed, a flame rising in the shape of a winged predator that lights up the entire wasteland. The other vultures that have been circling unseen now scatter, screeching as they do. The flames that have taken shape of their scout point to a path now.
It is the path that will take me out of the wasteland and bring finality to my misery. I follow it dutifully with the beast's heart pounding in time with my own. The two of us together find no more dread out in the wasteland. Our fears are quelled and our thirst for faith has been doused. We reach this ending together, and I have regained my strength through the beast that I once feared would end me.
My eyes open then. I rise from my slumber and the nightmare begins to fade. By the time I am beginning my day it is all but forgotten. I laugh at the jokes of others and bash my fists against walls in frustration. This is the mundane reality that lay at the end of that path in the wasteland. The vultures will return and my journey will lead me back there when they do, but the beast will be there waiting for them.