Wind and Sand
The sound of the surf woke me. The water was ebbing up and down my legs. I was reluctant to open my eyes, afraid that I would find myself back on the island. The land around me was not the island. It was a whole new world, but a world just as terrifying. All around me the land was barren. Even the seas seemed quieter, devoid of life. So close to the sea, I had expected long grasses just beyond the shore, short bushes past this, and finally a line of tall trees. Instead I saw nothing. The sand continued on and on, as far as the eye could see. Even the air seemed empty. The scents of animals and plants had all disappeared, leaving only the salty scent of the sea. Never before had I seen a desert so close to the sea. Not when there were no mountains and the winds were so calm. I wondered what else I had not seen. I had thought that my people had explored the whole of the world, but I found that we had barely scratched the surface. Over the supposedly endless see there were fiery islands and desolate sea shores. What other astonishing things awaited me? What other horrors?
For a moment I stood there waiting. I waited for the the gods to answer. Nothing happened. The gods seem to be done toying with me, at least for the day. Now that I was fairly certain that I nothing particularly calamitous was coming my way it was time I made some decisions. I decided that, given the barren landscape, the likelihood of being found and assisted was low. I chose to walk along the shore until I reached a river or a stream, something that would provide me with a source of fresh water. If all went well, I would not only find fresh water, but I would find civilization as well. Hopefully, this continent was inhabited. There might be a place where I would be able to beg for food and shelter. I began my journey with this hope firmly implanted in my mind.
The journey itself was uneventful, too uneventful. No matter how far I walked, the scenery was the same. No plants, no animals, no birds, and no insects. With each step my despair grew. I could no longer see the smoking island where I had begun or even the dark clouds of smoke that it produced. The landscape had blurred in my mind, becoming three amorphous blobs. To my left was the yellow desert, to my right was the blue sea, and above me stretched the darkening sky. I found the nights to be as cold as the days were hot. Even in the night there were no sounds beyond the crashing of the waves and the howling of the wind. When it became too dark to walk any farther I lay down, shivering to keep warm. Some days the skies would cloud over and there would be rain. This kept me going for a little while longer. Thus the days passed by, walking by day, shivering by night. More than once I found myself walking towards oases in the distance, only to find sand instead. Much to my dismay, these long days gave me time to think.
Given my situation, I wished that the barrenness of the land would be contagious. I wised that it would invade my mind. I began to imagine things, things that were by no means pleasant. I would imagine what it was like to starve to death, or to die of thirst. I wondered if I would be forced to devour rocks and drink the sea. These, though, were not the most frightening thoughts. When I dwelt upon the mysterious emptiness of the continent I truly felt fear. There was no reason for the land and sea to be so desolate. There was sunlight and soil and rain, but there was no plant-life. There were no fish in the sea, moss on the rocks, nor barnacles on the shore. A small idea had taken root in my mind and grew to maturity during my walk. What if…? What if I had awoken in between worlds? What if I had slept through the end of the world, only to wake when the new world was in its infancy?
While I was dwelling upon the possibility that I might never again see another living being, I saw the first piece of evidence to the contrary. Far in the distance I saw unnatural structures. I thought I saw the faint outlines of houses and perhaps a harbour. Hope flared in my heart. I was desperate. It had not rained for days. I was both parched and starving. I was so desperate that I did not even care if what I was seeing was real or not. If my eyes truly deceived me and I was just seeing a mirage I would just lay down and accept my fate. Perhaps my next life would not be so unlucky. I laughed, as if the fates would be so kind. Likely, they would find some other atrocious life for me to live.
As I approached the town, I became more and more certain that this was no mirage that I was seeing. Each step I took dispelled some of the distortion caused by the hot desert air. At the outskirts of the city it was far too large to be called a town I paused and let the city assault my senses. The city was vast, far larger than any I had ever seen before. If all the dwellings were to be filled thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people could be housed. What was odd was that the people who had built the city had decided to spread outwards rather than upwards or downwards as I was accustomed. None of the buildings rose higher than three stories; in fact, few were even that high. Each building was made of smooth stone, almost seamless in masonry. All of the houses had ornate doorways and windows. Examining one of the nearer buildings I saw something else odd. There were little tiny windows of all sorts of shapes on the side of the walls. These windows were too small to let in light let alone a fresh breeze. If not for the fact that they too were carved in detail I would have suspected that they were unintentional, damage or some other mishap. Only when the wind blew did I discover the reason for these holes. As the breeze passed through the house, the howling of the wind was transformed into a sharp whistle, changing pitch and volume with the direction and strength of the wind. Each of the houses produced a different sound and together the city became a symphony. I continued to walk along the ocean shore. Hundreds of houses dotted the city’s coast. They came in all shapes and sizes. Each of these houses sang the city’s song. Some of the houses even had elaborate water features, whose fountains would spurt timed to the crashing of the waves. I had never heard anything so marvellous and I couldn’t begin to comprehend the skill and knowledge required to pull off this feat. The builders of this great city had mastered not only stone, but wind and water as well. With this thought in mind I tried to justify what I saw next. All along the city’s shore there were long stone paths projecting out and over the ocean. Surely they did not think that they could bridge the gap between continents. And yet I wondered: if these people had tried, would they have succeeded? Walking along one of these stone paths I saw a sight that made hope flower in my chest.
Upon the ocean path stood a man. He waved towards me, urging me to hurry to his side. I was elated. My relief was almost palpable. Berating my mind for all the doubt and despair, I rushed towards the man. There was something odd about the man, something that tugged at the edges of my memory. I didn’t care. Here was not only the first sign of life, but of sentience that I had seen thus far. I had so many questions. Questions about the city, the music, the builders, the island of fire, and the desert of death. I hurried over, anxious to get answers. As I approached the man stopped waving. He placed his hand upon his brow, shielding his eyes from the glare of light. After a moment he appeared to panic holding his arms out in front of himself as if/ to ward away rather than welcome me. I was stumped. What was there about me that would be so frightening? I did not stop. I was too unwilling to let go of the opportunity. As the distance between me and him closed his distress seemed to magnify. Soon, he became overwrought and leaped off the path.
No!” I shouted, “Come back.”
My turn to panic had come. I dashed over. I refused to let the greedy ocean consume the only trace of life left on this world. When I arrived I peered over the edge, hoping that his body had not sunk or drifted to far for me to reach. I was surprised to see that he had not sunk at all. Instead he stood upon the water, supported only by a thin piece of curved wood. In his hand he held an odd weapon, a flatted club of some sort. He shouted and waved the club in front of him. I was flummoxed. Never had it occurred to me that my first contact would be so hostile, nor that I would not understand the language that he spoke. In retrospect, that I even thought that they would speak the same language as I was quite arrogant. I held out my hand, my palm facing upwards, hoping that the gesture meant the same thing to the both of us. He took the club and smashed my hand. A loud crack reverberated up my arm, signalling the breaking of my hand. I backed away. He climbed back upon the path and began to pursue me, swinging his club menacingly. I kept retreating, not trusting that he would not launch an attack once my back was turned, not wanting to lose eye contact.
I looked into his eyes and I was again surprised by what I found. Apparently, this new world had nothing but surprises for me. Before me stood something that was reminiscent of a man but not quite. His general form was similar to mine, with one head and a pair of both arms and legs... but the differences ended soon thereafter. His eyes were smaller than mine, narrower as well. White had invaded his eyes and there was an odd sheen to them. Other than his eyes, all else seemed to be a lesson in excess. His head enveloped in mass of bristles that barely hid his large ears. Looking down to his hands I saw that there were too many fingers on both hands. His feet were covered so I could only assume that he would have an overabundance of toes as well I had heard of such things before, but never had I seen such an extreme example and always the stories told of some sort of birth defect or disease. By all appearances there was a monster before me. Perhaps there was a monster before him as well.
I tried to act as calmly as I could. I put my hands to my side and slowly backed away from the man. I spoke in a soft and calming tone. I hoped that all of these would convey my peaceful intentions in a way that was beyond the boundaries of language and race. My actions appeared to have an effect. The man stopped swinging the club and looked at me. Rather, he looked beyond me. I turned to see what had commandeered his attention away from me. I saw a group of beings, much like the one who was so hostile to me I noted that this meant that this man was the norm on this continent and that I might very well be the only one of my kind here that were being pursued by yet another group who rode upon four legged beasts. This was all I could ascertain before a loud crack permeated the air and I began to lose consciousness.