Sand and Bones
By: Vincent C Castro Alemañy
The man found himself walking down a desert road and knew not how he came upon it. Even so, he kept walking, shrugging off the blistering heat that radiated from the sun, the desert's golden crown. After what seemed like a few miles he came upon a bundle of stones. They were set in such a way that left a small opening between two of them and the desert floor. Finding it a hospitable space, well protected from the sun, the man called out.
'Is anybody in there?'
His words died off and after a few seconds there came a reply.
He backed away from the stones, knowing well that only one kind of creature would ever reply in such a way. From the stone crevice slid out a smooth pink snake as long as the man, who was quite tall indeed. The pink snake stared at him with piercing yellow eyes, the sun reflecting off its pink muscles.
'W-where's your skin?' he said.
'It wasss taken by huntersss; they ssskinned me alive and left me to die.' The creature's eyes followed him, unblinking and ever watchful.
The man pondered the snake and crouched when he saw that it couldn't hurt him.
'How are you still alive?'
'I do not know, but I'm sssure that it won't be for long…'
He saw that the snake was in pain as the sun was drying its muscles with every passing second.
'Is there anything I can do?'
'Posssibly, but it would come at a cosssst to you.'
He looked the poor creature in the eye, having already decided to help it.
'I am in need of sssskin and sscalesss,' said the snake as it got closer to him. 'The sskin from your armss and legss would do niccely, and the nailss from your handss and feet may help me on the way asss sscaless.'
The snake stared at him as if it was expecting the man to run away.
'Alright,' he said.
The man gave away the skin from his arms and legs.
He walked on, sand sticking to his feet's exposed muscles, his arms and legs already shriveled by the hot sun. He walked without looking back, satisfied with his choice.
A mile down the road he spotted a small house where an even smaller figure stood on what appeared to be a porch. As he approached the house he could see that the figure was an old woman, with as many wrinkles as she had years.
'Hello!' the man said waving a red arm. The woman looked up. After a short moment, she gazed downwards again, moving the stick in her hands left to right; its end was wet as it scratched the floor.
'Do you by any chance have some water you could give me?' he asked.
The old woman raised her eyes and replied in a raspy voice, 'I do, but what good will it do if I can't clean the floor without a mop?' Her gaze went back to the floor.
The man pondered the scene and asked, 'How about I help you in exchange for some water?'
'What can you do without a mop?'
'I'm sure we can think of something; two heads are better than one.'
At this the woman lifted her head and stared, but not at the man's eyes.
'That's some nice long hair you've got there.'
He reached up and thought that his hair really was nice and long, 'Why, I hadn't even noticed.'
'How clean and smooth it is! You wouldn't think to find such hair in the desert…' said the old lady as she got closer and reached out her own hand.
'Thank you!' he bent and let her feel his hair. She caressed it, the hair sliding from her wrinkled fingers, the sun reflecting off every single strand. Then she tugged, and tugged, it twisted in her hands as she gripped and pulled. He held his hair and screamed in pain, 'Stop!'
'I need your hair! I must clean!'
He grabbed her hands, his burnt muscles holding them fast, 'There's no need to pull it, you only have to ask…'
She let go, perplexed, rubbing her wrists where he had held them.
'You would do that for me?'
'Yes, my scalp of hair for some of your water.'
And so, the man gave away his hair…
Night fell on the desert road and the man walked on, his hands shielding his skull from the sand wakened by the winds. Ahead of him the road turned into a canyon, surrounded on both sides by enormous steep cliffs. It lay untouched by the moon, so he would be met with complete darkness. Even so, he walked on, his hand against one wall.
After a while his eyes adapted and he could see the bumps and notches that covered the stone. He explored further on until his hand lost the wall and he fell into a cave to the right. Inside the cave, a dying fire flickered on a cache of hunting equipment. He gathered whatever twigs and leaves he could find, and threw them onto the embers and blew. The cave lit up more and more with every breath until he stopped and was able to make out his surroundings. Behind him was a sleeping bag, beat up and covered in dust. To his right there was more darkness as the cave continued underground. And in a semicircle on the other side of the fire lay the hunting equipment; three large bags, a varied assortment of boxes of ammo, rifles, pistols, shotguns and torches. He did not see any food or water, so he guessed that whoever was using the cave must have left in a hurry.
He sat in front of the fire, his blistered muscles aching from the heat. His eyes closed with little resistance as he watched the flames dance and lick the wood, a hypnotic typhoon offering a secure embrace and the promise of a calm, safe night. He slept.
He woke up, hearing a weak sound. Leaning against the cave wall was a small black creature. It twitched and moved in random intervals as though it were in pain.
The man crawled towards it, his skinless arms and knees brushing the cave floor. It was a bat, with a scrunched face and ears that leaned towards the front and turned outwards to the sides. It stared at him, its eyes clouded with pain. Its wings lacked the membranes that would have allowed it to fly.
'Help me! I am a creature of the night sky…' Its small mouth opened and closed, a 'scree' escaping it every so often. 'If I stay here much longer I may be preyed upon by a creature of the land.'
The man crouched beside the small black figure, his hands forming a basket for it. 'Tell me what you need. I'll do what I can.'
'Hunters… they captured me and stripped me of flight for their amusement.'
The bat looked at him, its head tucked between his fingers. From under it a trickle of blood accumulated into a puddle, the hands' junction forming a sort of crimson tub made of fleshy walls.
'Hunters?' he asked again. 'A snake I met had a similar story.'
'This desert is full of hunters. Of those who take.'
'Tell me. Tell me how I can help. How can I fix what the hunters have done to you?'
'My wings… I need flesh to fly.'
The boney frames of the bat's wings hung from between the man's fingers. They moved from side to side as they searched for a lift to the sky.
'As you can see,' said the man, showing the bat what his offerings had left him with, 'I haven't much to give.'
'Of your front and back… I could use the skin.'
He ruminated the small creature's words. He knew all too well that without the little skin he had left he would not be able to survive the desert's scorching sun. His eyes rested on the weightless body that he held in his hands. Without its wings the bat could die in the night.
'Alright, I don't need it. I can walk at night to escape the sun.'
He rummaged through the bags left by the hunters. Almost as a godsend, in the first one he found what he was looking for. Taking the hunting knife to his side he prepared to cut downward.
The man gave away his skin.
That night, the desert was best described as freezing. This the man knew as the cold enveloped his exposed muscles. He pushed on, and ignored it. Footprints marked his way through the sand.
Daytime arrived and the man rested under a rock, rejoicing in the shade. He started walking as night fell. He did so until he came upon another needy creature or person, and then another, and another.
To each of them he gave a part of himself; the skin from his face to a turtle that wanted to keep its shell cool; the meat from his arms and legs to starved coyotes; his teeth to a wandering guitarist who kept losing his picks; the bones from his extremities to explorers so that they could hold their tent up. The rest of his flesh he gave away to coyotes that liked the taste of him.
The man was left with nothing else but his skull and ribcage, still connected by the spinal cord. He dragged himself down the path, pushing onwards with his chin.
Close to the edge of the desert lived a farmer. He was a very poor farmer as the desert wasn't suited for growing crops and he was trying to work the desert sand with a long stick.
The man approached him, his ribs trailing long snakelike marks. The farmer noticed him for a brief second only to turn back to his fruitless work. Yet before dragging the stick through the sand again he looked at the man one more time and realization hit his face.
'Well, hello there,' he said.
The man's mandible moved up and down, no sound escaped the remains of his mouth.
'It seems like ya got yourself in quite the pickle. The desert can be unforgivable.'
The man looked on, his attempt at speaking unmet.
'Anyhow, seein' as how ya is here. Woul' ya mind helpin' me?'
Silence, the man goes still.
'Ya see, this here's a fork hoe, not a stick. I've had it wid me for tweny years now and so the teeth just gone and went on me. They… what do ya call it? Disinigreated? Yeah, that," he said, as he approached the ruined man. His eyes wide, his mouth tight, and his hands covered in sweat and sand.
'The point is that I need me some new teeth for dis hoe.' He showed the end of the hoe to the man. 'And might ah say, dem breast bones would do well. They'd do very well indeed.'
The farmer reached for the bones with his hands. The man pleaded, sand spilling from his bone mouth. His grieving silence went unheeded.