Valediction

They rode in on the wake of a whirlwind pitched from sand and fire. The very skin of the earth peeled like a scar and the horses wheezed as they sucked on the scorched dust kicked up beneath them. Still they rode on. To take shelter among dead trees is to lie within the endless arms of the abyss. By the end of the second day they came to the edge of a valley of slate. Above them flared the tail of a comet, which cut across a red sky, as if the belly of some ancient and long forgotten leviathan had been split and bled out over the horizon.

One of the riders, not yet a man in any other world than this, took down from his horse. He put his hand to his brow and stared at the hard land that stretched out to meet his feet in every direction. Just as it had done, changing and unchanging, for every man and half-man from millennia past and to come. Right then a thought seized his mind and took it away from this place, so as to distract himself from his want of beans and whiskey. It came to him now that this land, which held the fate of every living thing for a hundred miles, and had surely cast his already, was not the creation of God but a god onto itself. Beyond that it was the sky and the sea, and the peaks of lands yet unyielded to humankind. And it was in the beating hearts of birds and the cracked salt on his lips. For weren’t all these things, the infinite and infinitesimal counted as the spheres of heaven? That creations act on a scale no more measurable than the grains of sand in the desert. And that through the pre-eminent design of nature, these interlocking universes form new systems of time reclaimed at the close of life.

His companion tapped him on the shoulder and in doing so, broke him off from the eternity he incubated in his thought. Nothing was said. The leather hide that hung across his cankered shoulders beat loosely in the wind, reverberating through his skeleton. Tears bit into his eyes and he was penetrated by a deep longing for deliverance from this land of death. At this, he felt betrayed by youth, long thought silenced from experience. Propelled by the dull pulse of shame, he took his horse by the reins and headed off in one direction or another until he melted into the distance. And there he should end, where I begun.

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