Rain Shadow


Ran rolled the small amount of water around in her flask. What if she were to chug the whole thing down, right now, and feel refreshed, only to feel greater thirst later? Instead, she took the smallest of sips. Ran was lost.

It was only supposed to be a two-hour hike to Riverside, but it seemed like her navigation skills were not what they used to be. Using the position of the sun, she had continued to journey in what she had hoped was the direction of Riverside, but the wooden shacks at the edge of town had never materialized.

She slung the flask back over her tingling shoulders. The sun could mummify her skin.

She tried not to think about the pain in her feet. Sharp burning has subsided into an ongoing ache, that was beginning to give way to numbness.

If only she could sit down, like the Buddha, cross-legged in the sand, and dream herself back to where she wanted to be, back to New York City, back to the stuffy, creaky sitting room of her old girlfriend, Karen. She could see Karen sitting in the splotchy red-violet armchair, watching the news on an old set. What wouldn’t Ran give for Karen’s rickety, old Jeep? She would go back to New York, after a short cruise, in the Caribbean.

The orange desert dwarfed her. It was a slow rolling plain, ringed by distant crags. Above, various black-winged birds screeched, wheeling in the white sunlight. They hung like stationary planetary mobiles, in a quivering blue sky that was painful to look at.

The night would be cold and brittle. She could dig for water then. Right now, she could find some shade and rest in it. But only shrubs sat along the orange expanse. Rocky outcroppings were far away and off in the direction she would be going.

It was a trade-off: take some time to rest or perhaps even stay there, under a cliff, or in a cave, until someone came by, or use what little, time, water and nutrient bars she had left to keep trekking in the direction of where she was supposed to be. Ran didn’t recognize any landmarks. She could be travelling deeper into this desert, deep down in the heart of the United States.

Four days ago, she had been to the sea. Ran had come here from the West Coast, from her surf shop in Los Angeles. Visiting San Bernardino had been a holiday. It was strange how the simplest of things could get so radically overturned, spun in the wrong direction. Ran tried not to let things get her down. She cleared her mind; it was a blank plaster wall, as flat as the land in front of her churning feet.

She puffed out her cheeks and exhaled slowly. Every time she did that, the pain moved farther away, but every time it was pushed back, it would flow back from where it had receded, like ocean waves.

She moved as fast as she dared, hobbling on her throbbing feet. Why couldn’t she move any faster? She had forgotten her camera in the desert.


Death Transfigured


The small clay die rolled in the dust. Three of them. One of them almost lost in the long, decaying grass. Simon watched the die intently; he would resell this fraying cloak for a few more denarii than the stingy pickings he could pull from old, crooked Zachariah.

One clay cube landed on seven, the other on three, the last on two. “Twelve,” Zachariah said, with a laugh, “You only get five pence, instead of seven.”

“You cheapskate!” Elias burst out, “How can you live with yourself!”

Unfazed, Zachariah gazed steadily at him, “No one will cry any tears for a drunken thief.”

“Why, you!” Elias rose up, as if to grab the dull dagger always hidden in the inside of his right boot (he was left handed), but Timothy restrained him, grabbing his shoulder, “Cut the drama, Elias. This is business, not theater.”

No one got up. Zachariah stared defiantly around the circle, at the edge of a morphing, undulating crowd, ever-moving, ever-changing, people picking their way up the mountain, through the shrubbery, the sleeping rocks, the sharp blades of prickly desert plants, the loud calls, the gasps of onlookers, the jeers of uniformed guards, their silver helmets flashing in the afternoon sun – that was quickly being arrested by an oncoming gloom, black clouds of the incoming rain, the still air, the dry day. A few last rays. A sudden wind blows from the east to the west. Simon sighed, “I’m never going to get my money.” Two robbers and a charismatic preacher hung on the three crosses.

end of an age

See also: “The Robe,” a 1953 film.

Related: A Falsifiable Life