The beginning contains a seed of the end.
A man stands at the foot of the mountain. Naked, head bowed. Face rectangular and rough and red as a brick. Russet beard cut square at the jaw. Delicate sheath of skin, hardly sufficient for survival. He gazes without vision at his feet, bare to night and day.
Scorpions come. They swarm the sand with tails curved up-and-over, deathsacs poised, muttering among themselves. The man lifts his face to the mountain. A barren, muscular formation. Volcanic. No trace of plant or water anywhere. Which mountain is this? Where? Detail is my responsibility. I am irresponsible.
I take the man by the shoulders, turn him in my hands. I feel his bones under the filmthin flesh. He is all husk. Why is he standing here, unclothed, at the foot of a mountain? Where does he come from? Where is he going? I skirt the skin, crafting meaning from the outside in. The pockmarked aging face, the eyes shot with blindness, the leather hands, the inflamed nakedness, the bulk of muscle in shoulders, thighs, calves – all this speaks.
Winter winds blow. Beyond the scorpions crouch naked beings, ruddy with dust and sunlight. They watch the blind man, hundreds upon hundreds of squatting forms. They huddle in clusters as far as the eye can see, clasping their knees and sharing what warmth is mustered in their cores. Now and then they spring up, jump from foot to foot and shake their limbs to get the blood going. Then they squat again. They watch the man with thoughtful, restless eyes. Each waits to be made animal, a being of pain and desire and affection.
Looking down, I see the man at the foot of the mountain, face uptilted. I see the scorpions advance, death in their tail tips. I see the expectant beings and their saucer-eyes. I see my feet, rooted, sidebyside.
I do not rest. I dismantle, rearrange, identify. Resolution will not come. I discard all but the man. The man I circle and inspect. I pinch the biceps, quadriceps, calves. Slide my fingers through the firehair of his chest. Stroke the ear from lobe to helix, tip the lip with my thumb. Does he intuit all that he has forfeited? He stands motionless, blueblind eyes raised skyward, as if a mountain yet loomed before him.
About the Writer:
Kharys Ateh Laue is a South African writer whose fiction has appeared in New Contrast, Itch, and Pif Magazine. In 2017, she was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa prize. She currently lives in South Korea, where she teaches English.