So, after a long, long LONG time finally again an entry towards the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge – though I have to admit, while it fits the bill of the challenge “Talk about the divine” perfectly, it’s not quite flash. Rather it’s part of a much bigger – fanfiction – story, for which it serves as the exposition/character introduction, but if it hadn’t been for the word minimum being over the actually word count here, I would have liked to let it stand as it was, so I feel like it works well enough on its own terms. And since to me it felt much like an excercise in wordcraft at the time of writing, it kind of meets the spirit of the challenge, if not obeying by letter. And before this introductory post gets longer than the actual ~1200 words of the piece, I’ll shut up and hope you enjoy.
The sand burns bright and hot under his naked feet, but he pays it no mind. The heat makes the air around him shiver with distorted images. Spectres of light that might lead travellers astray, flit by in the baking sun. While they are looking for the relief of an oasis their hope turns into ash every time they climb a dune.
They have led a traveller into peril indeed, as he can see some distance away. A figure on a camel, both animal and man slow and weak in their movements, hours, maybe minutes away from folding up and succumbing to exhaustion and thirst – soon to be a rattle of bleached bones ready to be covered by the ever wandering dunes of the desert.
He turns and watches the man for a time, considering his fate for a moment; the impact of his life, lost or gained, laid out before him in the blink of an eye. It is not a great destiny; an ordinary life, unremarkable and brief. Neither his descendants, spread out across the continents, nor he himself are going to cause a particular ripple in history with either their existence or obliteration.
He turns his back to the man, looking out towards the massive mountain range he’s been heading for and curls his toes in the sand for a moment, feeling the small grains trickle past his skin. Then he takes the next step down the side of the dune. His feet sink into the malleable sand, leaving tracks that will shift and smooth out with the next gust of wind. Still, he feels the vibrations travel down deeper into the earth, to places that are no longer hot and bone-dry, but humid and porous. Drops of water gather in answer to the clarion call from up above and slip through the minuscule spaces between the ground stone to rise to the surface. By the time he has reached the valley of the dune, his steps do no longer sink into the shifting sands, but leave distinct imprints in the packed desert soil, moisture gathering in the places where his heels leave the deepest tread.
In the lowest dip of the valley, a small reservoir has already formed when he crests the dune on the other side and he feels the seeds in the ground, having lain dry and dormant among the kernels of sand, waiting to soak up the water greedily. They will sprout and grow soon enough, forming a splendid haven around the spring for a time, but in the immediate future, there is the traveller clawing his way up on foot from the other side, no longer willing to burden his beast, lest it topple and crush him.
He looks back then, watching from afar as the traveller spots the pathetic little puddle that will save his life by chance. Watches him scramble down with an air of disbelief about him until he gets close enough to the shallow pool to bury his face in the water completely, coming up with little clumps of mud sticking to his eyelashes and beard, his tongue tasting the sweet water on his chapped lips.
He stays for a few more moments, observing the traveller cup the water in his hands to drink, drag down the reins of the mount to take his place and smiles. Then he turns once again towards the mountains behind which lies the sprawling city of Damghan, the place he actually has in his sights.
The sun has sunk and risen by the time he reaches the ridge, climbing the mountainside with ease. He lets his eyes wander over the fertile valley to the left, more and more signs of life and humanity appearing on the horizon, until he can see the entire bustling city from the top of the range. On the ground, it is a sprawling marketplace, made rich by the turnover of the Silk Road, merchants with their camel trains passing through almost daily on their way to trade with the Christian kingdoms in the West. It is filled with rowdy, random movement, sounds and smells challenging the senses, but from up above, there is direction to it, the flow of people in the streets like blood rushing through the veins of the settlement. The roofs are square and bare or covered in tents and rugs, colours washed out by the blistering sun.
He looks upon one of the beating hearts of humanity, a place wrested from the desert in daily struggle while his spirit wanders down into the cracks, beneath even the stone, were the face of the earth isn’t hard and unyielding, but ever changing and fluid, where masses beyond understanding meet and fight in an eternally slow dance. There is a rift here, two giants meeting with a clash hundreds of years in the making. Less a battle than a brush of shoulders between two unstoppable forces acting as the immovable object towards each other. He has been watching out for this moment, waiting for this time and place to meet, but for some reason he cannot wrench his gaze away from humanity, even as he steps on a flint in front of him, grinding it into the dust, sending another call down, way down, where the moment has come.
It takes a while for the giants’ brush to travel back up again, first fine tremors that the people down in the valley cannot feel, even if they were looking out for it. The animals sense it of course, the horses skittish and disobedient all of a sudden, unsettling their masters who cannot fathom what agitates their beasts until the tremor turns into a tremble at their feet, travelling up into buildings, shaking dust from the roofs. By the time they realize what is coming, it is too late, rifts are opening up that rip streets apart and swallow houses, even though to the giants, they are no more than what a split fault line of dry skin on your fingertip would be to you. He watches fear and anger and terror sweep the settlement, shaking the humans in their spirit as the quake shakes their bodies before they are consumed. Finally the cracks have travelled all the way back up to where he stands, the seemingly unmoving mountain no match for the echoes of the force way down below. It splits, stone and gravel giving way, slipping down into the valley with a thunderous roar. And in the blink of an eye, the earth has buried hundreds of thousands of its creatures in terrible silence. Standing above, his toes dug into the new-born edge of the precipice, this time, his smile has teeth.