The road was long; it stretched out to the horizon vanishing to almost nothing. The dry desert air baked the sand; waves shimmering in the distance like a vast ocean of gold.
A young man approached a shack on the outskirts of a village.
“Excuse me, sir?” Peter said, “Can you tell me how to get to the town on the other side of the desert?”
Thud-thud, clank … chink; two boots hit the ground and a head appeared from a window, the paint on the frame peeling from years weathering the elements of the desert. He was an old fellow, frail and grizzled with greying hair; his skin was leathery and brown, tanned from his tenure in the heat.
“You goin’ through then?”
Pthu! Splat! The old man shamelessly spat the phlegm and excess saliva from his throat onto the ground; it sizzled in the heat.
Peter nodded gingerly.
“Dressed like ... that?” the man continued in his gruff southern tone.
Now aware of his clothes, Peter looked at his shoes examining himself; his gaze was greeted by sandals, his pale legs with thin tufts of hair, shorts and a T-shirt.
“Well … yes; what’s wrong with shorts and a T-shirt? I mean … we are in the desert.”
The man smirked as he began to lean back in his chair, putting his feet back up on to the frame of the shack window, tilting his hat back over his eyes and face; he was not going anywhere soon.
“Listen, son, you won’t last two minutes on this journey dressed like that. Come back when ya got a pack with a blanket, ‘n’ ’n umbrella ‘n’ som’ boots.”
Peter, grew impatient and weary of the man’s obvious condescension. He turned and started to walk along the road.
“Umbrella? … Blanket?! … ” he sneered, “ … in the desert?!”
Peter thought the man was joking; facetiously mocking him.
“Well, if you’re going to be like that … then, … I, … I, … ”
The man sighed and rolled his eyes; quietly he muttered to himself, “Oh jeez, here we go again …”, he raised his voice, this time to be heard, “… alright, alright, … now, com’on, … wait a Dickie-bird … ” the man interjected, starting to leave his shack.
“… you’ll do what? ...”, he continued while closing the door and reaching for his travel pack leaning against the outer wall of the shack. “... Take ya’self?”
The man walked in Peters direction, his eyes looking through him focused on the horizon. He pulled his goggles down over his eyes, flicking his scarf over his shoulder covering his mouth and cheeks.
Peter, stopped, trying to resist the taunt; slowly he turned to face the man. He clenched his fists in frustration; he paused.
“Yes … ”
“ … and if you are going to be this intolerable the whole way then yes I will indeed be taking myself.”
The man began to walk towards the horizon; his eyes fixed on his destination through his tinted eyewear.
“I’ll take ya, … so quit ya belly-achin’ … ya gonna need the energy. We don’t stop ‘till sun down.”
Peter watched, frozen, as the old man strode passed him with a youthful conviction.
“Well?” the man looked back over his shoulder.
Stunned, Peter returned a confused look unsure what is being asked of him.
“Ya comin’ then?”
Startled by his own inactivity, Peter made haste to catch up with the old man.
The two figures slowly ascended towards the horizon along the road eventually escaping view. The man leading the way, with Peter not far behind.
* * *
Seconds turned to minutes, and minutes turned to hours; the sun met with the horizon while they walked.
Everything was covered with a greyish blue tint. The once golden ocean now was a wave of deep, dark, blue, covering the landscape with an icy chill that sparkled in the moonlight.
They sought refuge in a cave, hunkering down for the night. The cave glowed a familiar orange as they huddled around a campfire for warmth.
Peter slurped the dregs from his cup, disappointed that he could now see the bottom.
“D, … d, … do, … do you have any more?” Peter said, his teeth chattering in his mouth, the tuffs of hair on his arms and legs standing on end with goose-bumps.
Quietly amused, the man smirked with a knowing grin. “Put this on!” he said, taking a blanket from his pack.
“T, … th, … thanks, … ” Peter said with a sigh of relief; it wasn’t much better, but it was better than nothing. “… wh, … why is it so cold? ...” he continued “... I thought this was the desert!” He was a little warmer now, thanks to the blanket.
The man poured more tea into their cups, taking a sip from his, and handing the other back to Peter.
“Durin’ the day, ya could cook an egg on ‘sand, but at night ...” he looked at Peter, shivering under his blanket, “ … well, ... you can feel’t” Steam left his mouth with every word.
“Most folk don’t expect to see frost ’n’ ice”, he continued, looking towards the mouth of the cave glistening from the tiny ice crystals on the sand hinting at what awaited them on the outside.
The campfire crackled, filling the silence.
“You should get som’ rest ...”, the man starts to move objects around as though tidying the space around him, “... we’ve got a lon’ day tomorra’.” The man rested his head on his pack, turned towards the fire and closed his eyes.
“What’s happening tomorrow?”, Peter enquired, a little worried.
There was no response; the man was asleep, or perhaps, choosing to ignore him.
* * *
The sun was blinding and the air, stifling; the heat was unbearable.
Peter winced looking at his arms, now red-raw; each step caused him discomfort from his sunburn, a product of the day before.
“Arrg! I’m beginning to peel!” he exclaimed while removing a loose and quite-large flake of dried skin flicking it on the sand.
“Don’t do that! ... That won’t help ya!” the man scorned while reaching for the yellow umbrella attached to his pack.
“This won’t help the burns but it will stop’em getting’ worse … ”
Peter snatched it, opening it to shield himself from the sun’s glare. He looked at the man with a squint.
“Say it … ” the man grunted.
Peter paused; for a moment, he contemplated asking why the man didn’t give him the umbrella in the first place.
He bit his lip.
“Nothing … ” he looked away, continuing to walk, picking up his pace towards the green line wavering along the horizon in the distance.
He was annoyed.
* * *
The ocean of gold was now a wall of greens and browns. In contrast to the openness that accompanied the journey until now, the view did not escape past a few feet ahead. Every inch was covered with bark or leaf. The world seemed to hustle with life; the air filled with sound. Chirps and shrieks of birds and insects filled the silence.
Thwack! The man swung his machete, slicing through the tendril of a creeper vine blocking their way.
“What is this place?”, Peter, enquired while stepping through the detritus. “This is the strangest desert I have ever seen … ” He looked up at the thick canopy overhead, almost tripping over the unearthed root of a tree.
“We ain’t in the desert no more, this here’s a forest. Now, keep up!” the man retorted.
Thwack! He cut another vine.
“How far have we walked?”
Thwack! Thud! A large piece of vine hit the forest floor.
“That’s not important, we ain’t there yet!” the man answered, a slight annoyance in his tone continuing forward with a determined stride.
“OUCH!” Peter shouted, hopping on one foot, falling to a sit while cupping the other one.
“Oh no … now, it’s starting to itch.”
The man stopped.
He sighed; shaking his head, he sheathed his machete back to his side, removing his pack from his back.
Searching, he reached in, revealing two slightly worn boots and two thick socks. The man smiled, again with a knowing smirk, “Put these on.”
Peter looked up, averting his gaze from his foot. He paused.
“You deaf? The boots … put’em on!” The man tossed them to the ground immediately in front of Peter.
Slowly, Peter picked them up examining them. They were thoroughly used, the unmistakable odour of stale sweat that only feet can make entered his nostrils.
Peter looked at the man, his eyes thinned to a squint, again.
“Say it … ” the man said, lips pursed, arms folded, his pack now firmly returned to its position on his back.
“I just … ”, Peter stopped himself. He paused. “ ... nothing … ” he sighed.
“Okay … put’em on!” the man draws his machete, and turns.
Peter removed his sandals and began to put on the socks and boots.
He looked up to speak to the man, now quite a distance away, “What should I do with my sandals?!”, he shouted.
“I dunno, … toss’em! You won’t be needing them again.” The man shouted from beyond the bush.
* * *
“Righ’, we’re here!”, the man exclaimed.
Through the trees in the distance, a large wooden gate could be seen. It was connected to a chicken wire fence extending several feet towards the sky and away into the distance both to the right and left of the gate.
It was the town line, the border, separating the town from the forest, aimed at keeping the wildlife out.
The two walked towards the gate; the man nodded to the sentry in the tower. The sentry shouted to his colleagues on the ground “Open the gate! … two comin’ in!”
There was a sharp thump, as the gate was unlocked. The wood groaned and creaked with its age as it opened to let the two inside the compound.
The man removed his pack, extending it to Peter. “It’s yours now, use it wisely.” He turned around and began to walk back in the direction they arrived from, leaving Peter, alone to enter the town grounds.
“Are you not coming in with me?”
“Nope, … nothin’ for me inside.”
The man, was now further away almost completely disappeared by the surrounding foliage.
Peter raised his voice to be heard over the backdrop sounds of the forest.
“You took me all this way, and I never asked your name?”
“The name’s Emmett.”
He was gone.
* * *
Peter sat on his veranda drinking a cup of tea. The tufts of hair on his legs now thicker and grey, and his skin wrinkled from his tenure in the forest.
A woman approached his house; they were on the outskirts of town.
“Excuse me, Sir!” she shouted from the grass nearby clutching a map.
“I need to get to the village on the other side of the desert. Can you show me how to get there on this?”
She raised her map towards Peter so he could see it.
“Are you going through?” he shouted back.
“Yes” she said, a little nervous at the prospective journey.
Peter looked at her, his eyes tracing her from her feet to her head, “Dressed, like that?”, he said breaking the silence.
She looked at him, puzzled, taking a moment to examine her clothing. Trainers, shorts and a vest-top greeted her gaze.
“I was hoping to … what’s wrong with what I am wearing?”
Peter smiled, looking towards his pack which was leaning on the wall on the other side of the veranda.
“I’ll take you”, he paused reflecting on the journey, “but you need a pack, with some decent boots, an umbrella, and a blanket.”
“An … umbrella!? … in the desert?” the young woman enquired with confusion.
Peter sipped his tea.
“Yes, an umbrella …”
Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball. A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.
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