Fata Morgana

by Chris Deal

My son held my hand as he led me over the hills of dust and down into valleys, past dead streams and carrion bones. There were no words to be had between us. Our journey into the desert was slow. I concentrated on each step, over rock and dry root. After a day's walk, we came to a mesa that offered a full view of the infertile world. I sat in the dirt and he sat beside me. From his bag he took a bladder of water and dried meat and sat them before me. He looked at me like he wanted me to say something but all I gave him was a nod. He stood and turned, but before he left he leaned down and embraced me, his strong arms tight against the frail mess my body had become. This was for the best.

He grew smaller, his body silhouetted against the dying sun until there was nothing left of him and I was alone on the tableland. I pressed myself against the dirt to steal any warmth I could and fell asleep with a rock for a pillow.

A lizard sat perched on my chest when I woke. The sun was still hidden by the earth. I moved slowly to pat the lizard like a pet and it jumped, landing in the dust before running faster than I could imagine. Its tracks, small impressions I had to strain to see, went further into the barrens, away from home. I stood slowly, my bones heavy, and followed the lizard towards nothing.

When the day began, the sun went about its work of beating against the world without care for what there might be down here, I remembered the food and water on the mesa. My mouth was dry and my stomach painfully empty. When I turned around to see if I could make my way back to the mesa, there was no trail for me to follow. I kept forward.

I aimed towards the horizon through the day. It never got any closer. The dust covered me and I was one with the desert.

There was nothing but the dust and the sun and several small blights in the sky. The birds were waiting for me to die. This was for the best.

On the fourth day, my legs and my back were sore and tight, my feet coated with blood and dust, and I could think of no reason to keep walking. I watched the sun rise in the sky from the ground, illuminating the village floating above the desert. I raised my head and watched. It was home. I could make out a figure made small by the village and it was waving to me, calling me back. My son.

My body resisted when I tried to stand up. My arms gave and I fell on my face. After hours of effort I stood on my feet and through many more I took a step. I watched the ground to ensure I would not fall. When I looked back the village in the sky was gone and I was alone.

When I fell I did not get back up. The birds came from the sky and kept me company. This was for the best.

BIO: Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. His debut collection of short fiction Cienfuegos, was published by Brown Paper Publishing.  You can find him at www.Chris-Deal.com.