By Sam Wood
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I cried...oh yes, I cried. Before, when I would look out over this ocean of
sand and listen to the whispering of the wind.
Now, I bask in the radiant sun and feel the sting of years--like myriad
scorpions--consuming my soul in the fiery disparity of a life on the
threshold of a new dawning.
I am the personification of the desert. My skin burns, my lips dry and
cracked, I am desolate and forsaken. My worshipers are all dead.
The people of the desert.
I am alone...and rightly so, for I have given it all up for eternal life,
cursed though it may be.
Who am I?
The Spanish call me el nůmada, the wanderer. Condemned by the Great Spirit,
to meander across the wasteland for a thousand years, collecting the souls
of the dead.
But once I cried, maybe a hundred...or a thousand years ere. I can't recall,
but the souls I have taken haunt me still! The voices scream and fill my
being with anguish.
I follow the sands and some have mistaken me for the whirlwind, the dust
devil. I'm am a devil...yes it's true, but I'm a shadow. Not tangible. You
can't see me coming. You only know I've been there.
Perhaps you may glimpse me as I steal your soul.
You lie on the desert choking, your body blistered and weak. Unable to go
on. The sun beats down on you and your skin cracks. You gasp for breath, and
just as life begins to leave you glimpse me...just a glimpse mind, and I
take your soul.
There! A shadow on the shifting sand, a wagon. Oh joy! I float on the hot
wind towards the shape, I moan and they infer it's the wind.
I study them, the horses are almost gone! I flit around them, sand in their
eyes, their ears and mouth. The woman speaks. "Joshua...the horses are
played out, we have to stop and rest them."
"Yesssss...." I whisper in her ear. She hears me and yet she doesn't.
"Martha we can't, the sun isn't even at noon, already the heat is baking us
and the water is almost gone." The man looks into the wagon, and I follow
his eyes and discover two children asleep. Two young souls for my
collection. I caress their fair hair, I will take them and they will wander
"Damn you Joshua, we never should have left the wagon train, we'll die out
here." She weeps dry tears.
The man looks to the horizon, the shimmering heat waves. I breath and the
sand stings and blurs his eyes. "The fever was running rampant, it would
have killed us all eventually. Better to take our chances out here."
But he is afraid too, I can sense it. I leap with joy. I will add this
family to the moaning souls that the living mistake for the desert wind.
"Mommy...." The little girl chokes, "I'm so thirsty." The little boy doesn't
"Here sweetie...take some of this," the father offers the last meager supply
One of the horses collapses. "Yesssss...." I shout, and the souls shout with
me. Only they say "no!"
"Cory...Cory...." The little boy stirs listlessly.
The time is approaching. The man climbs down and begins cutting away the
harness. He's weak, but finally manages to free the downed horse. He climbs
up into the wagon, and begins throwing out all their possessions. "Joshua
no...." the woman sobs.
"We have to Martha! The one horse can't pull it all."
The woman watches as the man discards the remains of a life they'd left
behind. I spin and dance around them, coating their skin with my essence,
purging their minds of hope. Inviting them into the sweet embrace of el
nůmada. I take the boy, I had him all along. His soul joins the others.
The sun continues to climb, the heat melts the harness causing it to stick
to the yoke. The woman and the girl are almost ready, I watch them, waiting.
I realize that the horse will smell the river soon. I continue to beleaguer
the animal, trying to slow it.
Suddenly, the man does something unexpected. He stops!
"It is time..." I hiss. He climbs slowly down from the wagon, and cuts the
horse loose from the harness. Then, he takes the woman, and drapes her over
the horses back. He goes back, and does the same with the girl. He realizes
I've already taken the boy, and slaps the horse.
In shock, I watch as it runs a short distance then smells the river. I
curse, but do not follow. I have lost them. I watch the man. He collapses
and lies still, struggling for breath. Very well. He opens an eye and
glimpses me. A choking scream rises in his throat, I grin wickedly and take
I relish in the horrified screams of his consumed soul, but something
disturbs me--then, I realize the soul I have just taken contains the shadow
of satisfaction--of comfort.
"Noooo...." I moan and the sand swirls around my essence like a monstrous
tornado, darkening the sky and shrieking across the desert.
My senses stretch forth across the hot sand to a place beyond human sight. A
small town of weathered shops and empty saloons. Tumble weeds dot the
wind-swept main street like pieces in some long neglected board game.
The dull wit of a hagridden horse suggests another soul to be taken. A
pleasant thought and I travel the distance to the desert town unhindered by
time or distance.
A gunman in a black hat leans against the glistening flanks of his horse.
Exhaustion causes his shoulders to droop. Strands of sweat-soaked hair stick
to the sides of his head and neck, giving up the precious moisture that
might sustain him.
The voices of the souls cry a warning. A moaning sound that echoes down the
empty street and bounces off the swaying signs and boarded up windows.
The man looks up. "That's some wind eh Chico?" he comments wearily. "At
least maybe it'll cover our tracks."
"Sooo...someone is after you." I chuckle, and the man looks to the desert
With a weary sigh, the man steps up onto the weathered boardwalk. His silver
rowels jingle with each step. A gun hangs in a black holster from his waist.
I know guns...yes they have been useful tools at times. Especially once I
was able to get them into the hands of the desert people.
I can smell gunsmoke--yes! It is also the smell of death.
"Bob!" Another figure appears at the end of the deserted street. I shiver
with anticipation, but something disturbs me and I realize I hadn't sensed
the other man's soul.
"Frank...." the man with the silver rowels answers.
"Face it--there's no place else to run."
"Was I running Frank?" Bob smirked. "Maybe I just wanted to have you all to
myself. I knew the others would give up, but not you." Bob walks out to the
center of the street. He tips the hat back.
"That's because I know I'm better," Frank answers.
I recognize this scene as the two begin walking towards each other. Blood
would flow and a soul would be ready for the taking. Which should I choose?
I could watch and perhaps gain them both, or I could manipulate the hot sand
into the eyes of the one--but which one?
An evil aura surrounds the man Bob. He would be stronger, yet his soul would
"Jessie was a fool to turn his back on you."
"He died the way he wanted...and besides, I gave him a chance to face me,"
Bob answered angrily.
"You're a yellow bellied liar!" Frank shouts.
Bob's hand darts down to the black handled gun at his side. In an instant,
Frank's own gun is up and both fire in a blur of gunsmoke.
For one horrified second Bob sees me and tries to scream. It isn't his voice
that echoes from the vacant walls of the deserted town, but his soul. His
body pitches forward into the dust.
I drift towards the still standing form of Frank and decide--no, I will not
take you today, but I will be waiting.