When I Dream of Deserts

There was literally nothing around me but hard, red dirt and cracks of endless dust tearing through the barren rock. The sky was as blue as I have ever seen it, the sun a chrysalis of frosted glass, hanging between clouds almost soft enough to taste. It was hot. It was far too hot to be a normal day and sweat spiked on the nape of my neck and dripped into my eyes. I wiped at them tenderly, as they shrieked in their sockets.

I knew that I was not alone, but I could not see anyone. So I started to walk, ignoring the intensity of the heat beating down on my body and cooking my flesh. I walked, the dust kicking up from my shoes and settling on my wet skin. I felt as though I were caked with dirt, my throat slick and scratchy. I could hear footsteps, small, scuffling footsteps. The footsteps of something too small to make noise, or something that did not have walking down to a fine art. I would find out that the footsteps belonged to both something small, and something unable to walk.

There was a building in the distance, not so far away that I could not identify it as an indoor swimming pool, but still far enough away not to be able to make out whether or not it was in operation. I focused my exhausted eyes on it and continued, one step after another, the way I always had. The scuffling noise returned and I spun hard enough on my heels to swirl a cocoon of dust around myself, momentarily disappearing into the redness of the air.

There was a strangled sound of gargling, as though someone were trying frantically to breathe through oil laced sea water. I could feel my heart beating in my mouth, when I realised at once that the strangled sound was actually coming from me. I tried to smile, the skin on my scorched lips cracking and allowing tiny runlets of copper coloured blood to rise to their surface. I licked tentatively as them, wincing back against the enormity of pain, but savouring the taste of anything in my mouth, even if it were my own blood.

Caught in the monotony of walking I did not notice the deep crack in front of me until I was at eye level with it. My head hit the hard pan with a sickening thud and for a moment the sky lost its allure and became a speckled black greyness that seemed to swamp straight into my bones. I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes, a dizzying sense of becoming unravelled settled over me and I allowed it to take me.

When I opened my eyes I could see them coming towards me, slowly staggering, as though they did not have full command of their bodies. I want to say to you now that they were mutants, out there in the middle of nowhere, the left over products of a wasteful and even more hurtful society of experiments and forgotten mistakes. However as they drew closer I saw that they were not in fact mutants but children.

They were about seven or eight in total, but grouped together amidst such nothingness there may as well have been a hundred of them versus the one wounded me. They walked with their arms drawn into their chests, their wrists locked out at awkward angles, as though they were mimicking a praying mantis. Their feet pointed inwards, their hips slanted and the closer they came to me, I realised that they had no fingers or toes. It did not look as though they had been born without them, more so than that they had been forcibly removed.

It was their faces that made me get up and away. Their heads were cocked back like an angry pistol, their twisted grimaces of what could have been pain, but could just have easily have been pleasure, saluting the silence of the topaz sky. I now realised, with a gut wrenching certainty, that the noise I had heard before my face hit the floor, the gargling sound of strangled breath, was not coming from me after all. They were all trying to speak, but their words were dead before they could be born, as though their lungs were full of sand. Every single one of them was hideously sunburnt, to the point that their skin was peeled off in great, weeping welts all over their naked bodies.

I started to walk as fast as I physically could, knowing that if I had began to run I probably would have fainted. Instead I briskly broke through the air, creating a much needed breeze against my sweltering face. They were drawing closer, in my head I was moving faster than I thought I was. I could not so much as hear them behind me, but feel them, as though the movement of their deformed feet dragging through the dust sent physical waves through the earth and up my legs.

The swimming pool was as close as it had ever been when I fell again, this time hitting my head hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I laid on the floor curled into a ball. I could feel their breath on me, hot and sour, like cabbage left in the sun to stagnate. Their eyes were the whitish blue of a blind man, and where the white should have been was blazing red. Blobs of dead black blood and hard green pus sat in the corner of those eyes. I now knew that they were not grimacing in pleasure, but in complete and irrevocable agony. A fingerless hand touched my face and I felt my heart shatter.

She could not have been older than seven, but her face was twisted and full of confusion. Her hair was blonde, hanging in dirty patches all over her head. Across her chest the skin had peeled away to bone on her ribs and in the unforgiving sun it glistened like a fish on the deck of a boat. She smelt of rotting earth and flesh – hot, decaying flesh, but something in her ethereal eyes made me want to save her. That same something inside myself told me that she, like the others, was beyond saving.

She leant in closer to me, her breath now almost too much to bare. Her eyes flickered back and forth over my face, as though she were trying desperately to see me clearer. A sticky, black tear lurched sluggishly down her cheek as I touched her face, my own vision starting to focus. As I lay there on my back, spitting distance from the swimming pool in the middle of the hard pan, a shot ran out and the girls head exploded across my face, a swatch of dirty blonde hair landing with a coy splat my face. It smelt like a memory.

I laid there on the dark, hot hard pan and laughed. I laughed until the girls blood trickled into my mouth and down my throat. I laughed until I was physically sick all over myself, but still choking on the vomit, I laughed some more. The other children were retreating from the gun shot now and I could hear someone shouting in the distance for them to disperse. Someone said that their was a girl on the hard pan covered in blood. I laughed until I I passed out, but I did not fall into the blackness of unconsciousness, but the sacred, still blue of the first and last sky I ever remember seeing.

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