December 17, 2009

Beer As Dark As My Heart, Stave IV

Stave IV

"Keiter's post was at least three day's travel from headquarters. The director managed to scrounge together a donkey and something that apparently passed as a carriage in that wretched wilderness!

"The driver was a native in the employ of the Organization. I swear the man and the beast he drove were split from the same soft stone that litters that country. They both wore thick, gray hides, wrinkled with time and work. The man's colorless face matched the winter coat he clutched around his neck in spite of the sweltering heat that had already made me strip down to my undershirt. Both stared, as one imagines a somnambulist to stare, at the brown earth beneath them.

"In unison, they turned to me as I approached. 'Where go you?' he croaked, his thick accent almost obscuring the words. His mouth was empty, except for three yellow teeth jutting out of his gums like forgotten gravestones. His breath smelt of lingering spirits and decay.

"'The center station.' His brow furled, perplexed. 'Center Station... Keiter' The driver stumbled slightly in his seat and clutched his reins tighter. The mule shivered once and kicked the dirt.

"'Center,' he exhaled and made an unfamiliar gesture which I took to mean 'come along' though it was anything but welcoming. The man returned his gaze to the dead earth beneath his beast's feet and clicked his tongue. His shoulders hunched and he grumbled incoherently to himself, perhaps communicating with that mule whose aspect seemed so much like his own.

"I didn't realize then that this man would be the best company I could've asked for on the three days journey from headquarters to Keiter's post. In that wilderness, good company is a rare thing indeed. The man was more real than all of those lost creatures at headquarters wandering from place to place, protocol and statutes the only language they spoke. They recited empty legalisms as they wandered the grounds, like so many rabbis reading the Talmud. I welcomed his sincere silence.

"'Cold li?' the man next to me grunted. I knew enough to know that the single syllable he attached to the end of the one English word he spoke meant that he was asking a question. He gestured aggressively toward me as you would toward a reckless child.

"'Cold?' I was somewhat confused by the question. I was sweating. He just stared at me, a scowl scratched into his granite face.

"'Gol!' Naked! 'No. Hot!' I responded. The man only sighed through the etching on his face that served as his mouth. The cart rumbled on, and to my surprise, held up.

"'Name li?' I asked the driver. The sun had begun to beat violently against my forehead and I needed something to take my mind off my growing discomfort. I pointed at him as I asked. Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead and I waited for what seemed nothing short of an eternity.

"'Gosho' he grumbled without breaking his gaze ahead and down. Silence, except for the creaking and rattling of the cart. I waited for something more from this stone man but soon lost my patience.

"'How old?' I pointed at him again. 'Forty-five.' He spat out the words in his native language as he tightened his hands around the cracked leather reins. Again, I sat awaiting a reciprocal question. Nothing.

"We passed much of the rest of that day in silence. Sitting on the splintery plank of a seat, I sought distractions from the acute physical discomforts cutting into my body from all sides. In the distance, the silhouettes of the mountains stood like an overgrown Cerebus or Charon, guardians of some alien, dead world in the distance."

Mack remained quiet for some time. The sounds of the deepening night had crowded us from all sides.

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