Location: Atlanta, GA
Date of Birth: 1/1/81
Left and right a bleary footlight waned; the night-cloaked evening was settling, squatting with blue and then blinking specks that telegraphed the night spectacle firmament, where she pushed out her negative, to reign over her portion of the wheel.
The hump or apex was the beginning of the hottest hours and that time was hours gone now, and now the cold breaths of Hades took over and traversed the dunes, threatening to blow the awakening stars from the scaffolds of the sky behind them.
On the hump, the Hades wind did twisting dances with his folds of cloth; his face mirrored sunset to which they lumbered: an illumined half-circle being consumed by darkened cloth; the ridges of features barley outlined by the scant rays that lagged behind or perhaps were too strong to die yet. His close-squinting eyes squinting closer than nature asked, he bent into the breath that came up and out of the sun and yet was too cold to be of its origin.
His two companions trailed somewhere behind him on their camels, perhaps too hearing the echoes of the voices, three of them, one familiar, louder than usual with no echo that nature provided at the time: at the time their only surroundings were the sand and the screaming blue sky, with a tiny and angry sun peaking.
-Hazik, he said, your lips are moving and yet you make no sense.
-Here is sense for you, Azor: you are a fool! shouted Hazik.
Azor sniffed and exhaled.
-That's enough, I think, he said, loosening his stare on Hazik and focusing on the infinite behind his head. It's time we put an end to this arguing.
Omar, pulling at his beard, spoke:
-Mmm, ahm. Yes. Quite enough, I think.
The winds, sluggish in the heat, began to roll the soft sand into clouds. The men blew their noses in their hands and coughed. Water. The jugs, shaken, signaled that their levels were low. Save for later, when the heat gains power from itself, when the sand too is enough to burn a man.
Azor, beads of sweat rolling along his brow, licked the roof of his mouth with his tongue.
-We should move on, he said, before the sun gets a grasp on us. Now, Hazik. Which way?
Hazik held his breath, eyebrow cocked toward the horizons. He gazed at the sky, squinting in the noise of the sun. His right arm twitched and then shot out, like a spear at a battlement, his finger the lethal head. His rags flapped, hanging off the mast.
-There, he said. Directly west.
The hours had slowly crept on and on, and Azor thought of a dying man slowly pulling himself up a hill. Blood trailed behind him and Azor's legs would not let him stand to help him; he simply watched as the man-corpse pulled at the turf with one bloody hand while the other held in the guts and kept them clean, and the man died hours later, only halfway up the hill. There was also a cat, dead in the street, with tell-tale entrail trail behind him, leading back around a salt merchant's shack, to the point where it was beaten by the rock and cut mortally. Yet it dragged itself into the street, into the market, into public view, before passing on.
Now the sun had reached the bottom of the hill and that was where it chose to pass on, and inter itself in the dusty ground far away. It coughed up long strings and pools of purple Macedonian dye, and Azor's already purple shrouds seemed more regal in the dying light.
More echoes from when the sun needed a walking stick:
-Hold, hold, said Azor. The camel sauntered to a halt as Azor leaned back. The others stopped close and pulled down their kerchiefs. Mustachiomar:
-I know what you are going to say, he said, casting a furrowed eye at Hazik. I shall say it for you, Azor. Hazik, we have been traveling into the eye of the sun for two days. Directly west, you say, and hours ago we should have come to Jerusalem.
-Yes, I know, said Hazik, staring at his hands.
-Hazik, where are we? asked Azor.
-I. . .I do not know.
Glancing at each other, eyes close, burning.
-Soon we will be nothing but dust, Hazik, said Azor. The camels will still be alive, rooting around in our dusty remains! Where is the map?
-There. . .there is no map.
Quiet. If a dog were to howl miles away, it could have been heard through the gossiping wind.
Azor shut his eyes tightly and rubbed at his forehead. We shall die in the desert. We shall die in the hot empty face of death.
-Quiet, Hazik, said Azor.
-Hazik! spit Azor.
Perhaps the birds will find us, but what do they say of birds at sea? They only go too far from land to die. . .
-Omar, what have you? said Azor.
-I. . .I have no. . .I. . .hmm. I don't see what we can do but to keep moving.
-I simply thought that he would show us the way, said Hazik.
-What? said Azor.
-You know. I thought perhaps God would give us a sign. Perhaps a cat to follow, or a hawk.
Azor shrugged, swiveling his head.
-I see nothing, Hazik. Where? Is there a sign? I see no kitten.
-Yes, you are correct, but I simply thought it was a matter. . .
-Quiet, Hazik. Just. . .be quiet for now, said Omar.
-Westward, said Azor, and he faced toward the aged sun.
The camels were now moving slowly, tired from the hot day. The sun's last shout faded like glorious under-told story, and the stars came on, sending hints and winking in acknowledgement of things kept in cellars.
According to stories told to their fathers in smooth-skin times, great battles and bloody once burned upon the field, the dead parleyed in rows and counted for notice, and soon the cycle pulled them under and shot them up again: thick and hearty greens, well fit and brisk-growing for the sheep.
The fields were dense with grasses and every few steps a plant, a tiny burst of nature, broke out of the soil: long leaves laying down, laced with red streaks. Sheep snacked and slobbered while shepherds slept. Liquor was always well on hand, keeping the long nights short and cold ones more bearable.
This particular twilight was tinged with a special chill that rode the gusts and cackled as noses froze. The shepherds, on these biting nights, would crowd round the large and leafy tree with the long wool blankets, staffs pointed toward the frigidly clear sky and then rolling back down to the earth again, surveying prospective warming devices braving the winds for a night meal.
This particular twilight the shepherds did not huddle round the thickly barked tree, though, and instead were laying on their sheep hair sheets with mouths agape and agaze at the midnight lights of the twinkling sky, heads rocking gently side to side over their own shape and the relief of the lumpy wet ground beneath the shroud.
Joseph, the sharp snickering one, had said, before the sun resigned:
-My mother told me of men she knew that would eat the mushrooms that grow in the sheep's dung.
Gags and rejective noises all around.
-This is true! She says they would eat them every night.
-Are they tasteful? said Ram the dull wit.
-That is not the reason these men would eat sheep shit fungus! The truth will make you chuckle, sons and brothers! he laughed.
-I'm neither your son nor your brother and glad for it, Joseph the chin! said Aham, scapegoater. But over what shall I chuckle? Let's have it!
-Indeed, let's have it, said Obad the youth.
-Here you have it: the plants, these mushrooms, would contrive them visions, as if God spoke to them as prophets!
The men chuckled rightly, but Obad said, wrinkling faced:
-Perhaps God does speak to them!
-No, Joseph laughed. God does not give a prophet visions of a speaking ewe, singing songs of drink! Prophets do not receive from the Almighty visions of the earth rippling with tremor and then shrinking and fitting into a purse!
Obad's curious face remolded into a grin.
-But perhaps if we were to try this! said Ram. Imagine seeing the earth fitting in a purse. . .
-Ram the dull wit, ate growths of shit, to see the earth fit in his grip! Aham sang.
-Quiet yourself! protested Ram.
-Come on all you boys, eat up and enjoy, he said, with dung on his lip!
The group exploded with laughter.
-Yes, yes, have a good one on me, said Ram, casting his eyes to the earth between his crossed legs.
-Ahhhhh, shouldn't be so downcast, said Aham. I am just a fool. To be truthful, I am curious about these visions myself. Perhaps we should indeed find some of these mushrooms.
-Check the bottom of my shoe, said Obad.
Aham rolled with howling coughs.
-Yes, indeed! Come, boys. Let's go shit-picking before the light runs out.
The men scattered into the field below the hill, where the sheep lazily chomped and sent it out the other end. The men met back at the tree with dirty handfuls of small mushrooms.
-Hold them out so I can wash them, said Joseph.
The men held out their pickings and shook them in the cold water from Joseph's flagon, and then tossed them, shining and beading, on a strip of soft leather. It darkened with moisture around the pile.
-We eat them uncooked? said Obad.
-I suppose, said Joseph. My mother did not specify as to the preparation of the prophetic shit-flower.
-I shall try one, said Ram.
Ram slowly picked up one of the buds and placed it on his tongue like it were bound to erupt, and closed his mouth over it. He gently chewed and swallowed.
-They, at least, do not tell the mouth of their origins, said Ram to the group of wide and waiting eyes. They all took some and swallowed.
Now they lay in the freezing winds, apathetic flock below, fixed on constellations of their own making. They do not feel the gusts dip down into the valley and bend the tops of the trees with bitterness, do not feel their noses begin to run and the tears trickle down the sides of their heads and crystallize at the hairline.
Fifty foot angels, trumpet-tongued, sing rhythms and floating notes, tumbling tones, gold-locked and beaming, and arms outstretched to meet them.
-God is with us, mumbled Obad. Ee-man-oo-el.
Tiny sign on stake, stabbing the desert: wooden, unseen: town name.
Town sitting low; consumed utterly by night.
But a night watch left its candle burning: winking tiger eye in the dark bidding come.
-There, there! shouted Hazik. God's hand led us!
Azor shook his head, wrapped in winding sheet.
-Filth. Only now God gives his hand. To Jerusalem, we stumbled through the dark, he muttered.
-My fellows, I believe we have found Him, said Omar.
-We shall see. This hastiness in celebration could spite us, said Azor.
-We shall see, said Hazik.
Entering the sleeping town, the men searched. It was still, a painting of bright blue ground ending in edific shadow and the terrors that lay there. Camels amble through night streets, under low roofs of meager structures black against deep, deep blue-black night cowl.
-What a stink, said Omar. Sniffles.
Cow sound. Chickens, stirring, flapping, clock clocking.
The camels halt when their bits are pulled.
Dust cloud, bluish in the starlight, settled and drifted away. Camels snotting, snorting.
-Who's there? a man's voice in the dark of a stable.
-We are searching for a. . .for a child, born this night, in accordance with the words of the prophet, and in the name of King Herod, said Azor.
A long pause like the dark itself. Hairs on end, the electricity of the dead stars.
-No child here, the man's voice replied. Gruff, sticky. Drunken.
-Quite sorry, said Azor. Let us leave and set camp, he said.
-I'm very sure this is it, whispered Hazik, protesting. A leader will come who will guide. . .
-We have not found him, Hazik, Omar returned. It is time we go home. We must simply go back. This town is quite asleep. There is nothing here. It is time we go home.
-Yes, said Azor. Home.
-Yes, conceded Hazik. I suppose.
-Quiet, I'm trying to rest, said the man's voice, tumbling from the dark. Long journey afoot tomorrow, you know.
-Indeed. Forgive us, said Omar.
-Hush, said the man.
Night and desert: melding and interlocking, devour wayfarers. Three on camelback exit gates of a town that lies below a dune, swallowed by the night and the desert, fraught with shadows, and in a window a single cold flame that, like a tiger eye over bloody ivory spears, waits and beckons: come.