The night hung cold over the camp and though Jarvin lay with his wife he still couldn’t shake a chill that ran up his spine to the base of his neck and out the mouth as trembles. He awoke to find the fires extinguished and the tents of the tribe dossal. He wrapped himself in another blanket while he rose from his bedding and began to walk the camp. This trip had tried him and it weighed heavy on his mind. As he walked his footsteps crunched the dirt a sigh followed him. It seemed to always be at his back and when he turned to face it the feeling would once again be behind him.
He walked and walked, clearing his head of what he had thought of that day, of his age, his mortality, where he would fit in the lore of his tribe. It all seemed to press on him from every angle and even hurt his shoulder with its force. While he walked the pressure became greater and the voice in his head that doubted his every decision grew louder and more forceful until he could take it no more he stopped and turned, but again saw nothing. When he went to face the right direction again he saw that he had walked the entirety of the caravan and was once again at Ulrich’s cart.
The night was quiet but even in its silence one could hear bodies tossing and turning, children dreaming and people breathing. This cart though, had no such life. It sat dead and seemingly empty like the train from the other day. Jarvin stood a long while, waiting for any sounds to come from the cart when he came to the door and grabbed the handle. It was cold, but then again the night was cold. His arm tightened and his shoulder ached while he twisted the knob when at the end of the train he heard a rumble and beside him two great eyes revealed themselves as the giant stood tall over the cart. The eyes motioned for Jarvin to return to his camp as they returned to watching the rear of the train.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” he asked.
The giant glanced at him and with tense eyes stared back to the cart.
“Is something the matter?”
The giant didn’t break his stare this time. He just sat crouched behind the cart staring through it, on guard and alert. Jarvin reached again for the door but evoked and harsh growl from the giant.
“Tomorrow then,” Jarvin said and the giant nodded. “Very well. Good night, friend.”
The giant nodded again while he looked at the cart, lost in his own intensity.
A shriek pierced through the camp that morning from behind the tents and fireplaces as a woman ran frantically from one cart to the next, looking under the train and behind every rock, screaming inconsolably. Jarvin sprang up from his perch and ran to see what the trouble was. Once he got closer he could see that it was Shever from one of the rear cabins. He called her name over and over but she wouldn’t stop flipping blankets and breaking into living quarters and ransacking their belonging searching for whatever it was that she had lost.
“Shever,” he screamed as he grabbed her by the shoulders, “What is it?”
She slapped his hands away, “Rilen,” she screamed, “My Rilen wasn’t in our circle and I cannot find him.”
She tried to run through more of the carts but Jarvin stopped her once again. “Calm yourself, girl,” he shouted whilst shaking her steady, “If you need help we will help. The storm is past and we don’t need to leave just yet.”
Shever was still shaken but she ran back through the camp to her cabin to look further. The giant began to rise from his sleep where he had been all night next to the rear cart. Shever came to him still hysterical.
“Did you see Rilen sneak out last night?” she asked.
The giant shook the grog from his head and motioned that he did not.
Shever stomped away back down the train to continue looking, “What good are you?” she said.
Jarvin stood atop his perch and looked out over his tribe who were now gossiping and speculating over the missing Rilen. From his view he could see them for what they were: scared, disorganized and utterly dependent. Each family had its purpose, each person had their role but without him the gears in the machine couldn’t spin together in harmony to move the train. He finally knew why he had been sleeping poorly and away from them for years, he was afraid. Navigator wasn’t his most important role, anyone could have been taught to learn the maps and gauge the winds. He inherited a crown from his father, his heritage was to rule and guide the tribe in all matters, not just travel. It never occurred to him before this moment, seeing the threads come undone, that he and his family had afforded them so much solace in this harsh land. While they focused on cooking a proper meal or teaching the children or sewing the tribe’s clothes they were blissfully unaware of one another. From on top he couldn’t see what made this motley crew a family until he looked down to his own hands and saw how raw and blistered they were.
He shouted to the crowd, “Everyone, please give me your attention.”
Some members turned but most kept on their chatter like the sound of clicks and clacks from a chipmunk while he eats an acorn.
“Please listen!” he shouted but still none turned to look to him. A hate filled in him, like the decades of hand holding and unappreciated sacrifices were boiling up from his gut to burst through his lips. Jarvin picked up one of his compasses and hurled it as far as he could into a circle of people that were paying him no heed. The device slammed onto a man’s head and he fell to the floor in a thud with no noise. The camp was shot quiet and turned towards their now festering leader. He stood silent a moment and stared at the faces of the tribe looking to him. The wind blew in his hair and howled in his ears while the rest of the land was quiet. Not even the giant moved from his seated position at the end of the snake in anticipation for what he was about to say.
“What we need to do,” Jarvin said, making the words up as he went a long, “Please, everyone return to their carts. Canter, myself and the rest of my family will investigate and we will not stop until we find Rilen.” The crowd erupted at the notion of their privacy being invaded.
“Every cart!” he said, “Our friend will walk in a perimeter to search for Rilen in the badlands. Until then please everyone speak with Vashti so we know who is here and who is missing. If you make a single file and account for your families then we will be moving and on schedule in no time at all. I’m sure Rilen is playing games just like we all did when we were his age.”
The crowd didn’t move at first when the giant came to the center of the crowd. He let out a roar to implore them and they began to obey Jarvin’s command.
“I’m not a leader at this moment, thought Jarvin, I’m a bully.”
The search party moved from one cart to the next and the giant walked in a spiral for an hour hoping to see Rilen’s still breathing body in the bad lands but nothing showed. He was the lone living thing out in the desert and when he came back found that the search parties were about to enter the last cart. He kneeled next to Jarvin and with his violet eyes shook his head. Jarvin could feel the hope rush out with his sigh and dissipate into the sky.
He found himself at the last cart waiting for the giant to make his way. The giant trudged along the train, stopping at the water cart and taking a sip before reaching the end. The two paused at the door with the entire tribe at their back. Vashti stood with Mika and Canter at the front of the mob waiting to see what their chief and his lieutenant would find, hoping against all hopes that little Rilen would be there listening to stories from Ulrich and eating sweets prepared by Janda. He hoped that this had been a misunderstanding and someone how the clan and the child were safe and sound inside this cart. He looked at the giant.
“Is it still in there?” he asked.
The giant nodded his head. Jarvin steeled himself to pull the door open and with a great tug opened the cart to reveal... nothing.
The room remained untouched since he last stepped in. A half smoked cigar and unfinished drink sit next to Ulrich’s chair. A shirt laid on the sewing machine mid stitch and a child’s puzzle on the nearby rug was nearly done with mere pieces remaining in its completion. Jarvin went to the puzzle and picked up the nearby pieces to finish it, seeing that it was a beach from the old days, before dust clouds hung over the ocean and kissed the water, leaving a meniscus of mud for miles stretching out to sea. This ocean was blue; a vibrant and calm, reflecting sunbeams onto a nearby dock where two lovers walked hand in hand towards the end. There was no boat at the dock, they were there just the two walking and staring at the beauty that they’d inherited. It must have been an old puzzle but it was gorgeous. He could see why Ulrich and his family never shared such a sight with the rest of the caravan. Ulrich was always a tad more selfish than the rest, but that may be because the back of the train made him a recluse.
Jarvin felt a cold brush his shoulder and the entire room went black. All but the puzzle was shrouded in darkness and he couldn't make out any detail.
“Have you ever seen it?” said a voice whispering through its teeth into Jarvin’s ear.
“Never, this is old. Older than I and maybe my father and this train for that matter,” Jarvin said.
“I have never seen it, but I would like to,” said the voice.
Jarvin spun around to find the only light coming through the door behind him. He went to leave but the door slammed before him. The giant was waiting patiently outside and when the it crashed shut he jumped to his feet and investigated the cart. He felt the roof, listened to the walls but couldn’t hear anything. He clenched his fists and began to slam them against the cart. Light shot into the cart before the giant’s eye peered through one of the tears in the steal. He could see Jarvin and behind him to the left were two green eyes with no body. They were large like lemons and the green tom up the entire oval shape but like him there was no body. The giant thrust his hands into the tear and began to rip it in two to reach Jarvin but before the whole was big enough a black dome manifested itself, throwing him back his feet. As the tribe stepped back a void that had appeared and eaten the latter portion of their snake.
Jarvin now stood in darkness as the eyes circled around to his front and for the first time he could see them. They were bright and sickly, illuminating his body in a pale lime. “Who are you?” he asked.
A ripple under the eyes began and separated until it created a crescent pointing up with white but cracked and blunt teeth. “Who are you?” it asked Jarvin.
“I am Jarvin, this train belongs to the tribe and I am it’s chief,” Jarvin responded, “Who are you?”
“I have no name,” the eyes replied.
“Then what are you?” asked Jarvin again with a single droplet of sweat beginning to form above his brow.
“How do you mean?” the voice asked.
“I mean,” said Jarvin, “What are you? Where do you come from? I am chief, father, husband and friend, among others. What are you?”
The eyes shut and the mouth closed. The room was silent and dark once again until the eyes appeared next to the puzzle. “I am alone,” it said.
“I am nothing and I am alone,” the voice said, “That’s what I have been and that’s what I will be.”
Jarvin crouched down to his level and looked at the beach under them. “Where are my friends and the children.” Jarvin asked.
The great eyes darted to him, leering. The great mouth opened and trembled, though his body was black Jarvin could see the bent light through the spit that was dribbling from its mouth.
“They are gone and away. They steal from me and I steal back.!” The voice growled.
The eyes began to circle the puzzle until the came to rest on the other side of Jarvin. “Do you wish to steal from me as well?” it asked.
“No,” replied Jarvin, “I do not wish anything of the sort. I wish for my friends and tribeman to return and for you to leave wince you came.”
“Impossible,” said the voice, “They are gone and cannot return nor can I return. I stay. I stay with this.”
Jarvin reached down to pick up the picture but the eyes darted in front of him. “You will not touch it!” the voice snapped. “If you were not hear to steal then you would not touch!”
Jarvin pulled back his hand and lifted them above his head. “I do not wish to steal anything. I wish for my tribe to be left in peace and safety.”
The eyes returned to the puzzle. “That will not be, I have lived long and despite promises to the contrary the picture is always tampered with and then I must punish those who do.”
“Is that what you love most?” asked Jarvin.
The floating eyes closed and disappeared. “That is all. The picture and my privacy but that will not happen as long as you are here. I’m bind myself to the picture and it attracts you retched folks like rats to garbage. I tried hiding but you find me, like they always do. When we’re finished here I will dispatch your tribe and have my serenity once again.”
“I cannot let you.” Jarvin said.
The eyes reappeared before him in an instant.
“You have nothing to stop me!” shouted the voice.
A bang echoed from outside the cart. It was the giant still pounding onto the black dome that had formed and knocked him. With every hit he let out a roar that shook the camp but the dome didn’t move and shortly his hands were pounded raw. Black liquid seeped out of his hand with every strike as the village watched the colossus struggle. Men and woman huddled together around their children. They did not know what was happening and in their hearts equally feared the giant as they did sympathize with his struggle. They couldn’t make up their mind if he was responsible or fighting against the great barrier. With his hands gushing what was surely blood the giant tired and collapsed to the ground. He rubbed his wounds to the ground so the salt of the dust could close them and waited for the dome to disappear.
Inside the dome, Jarvin stood with the voice circling around his head, peering through him and waiting for a reason to tear him apart. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes but in this blackness minutes stretched into infinity like a road that’s so straight and long it fades into the horizon only to come back around the world under your feet. Jarvin looked again at the beach, he wanted to go there, to the bright glistening water, away from the cold. And then, he got a spark of an idea. It was faint and short, but an idea nonetheless.
“You wish to be left alone with this painitng, voice.” Asked Jarvin.
“I do, but people do not leave it alone. I will be though, once you’re gone and not to return like the family.”
“Then let me strike you a deal. You mean to strike my tribe once sunlight fades to darkness, am I wrong?”
“That is correct,” answered the voice.
“Then listen hear,” said Jarvin, “I cannot stop you from this but I can make you a bargain. Let us take you somewhere where no one will find you. Let us take you into the dust. There, no one will even be able to see your cart let alone the puzzle and if they stumble upon it will be by mistake and they are surely doomed regardless. I will make you the promise that if you give me one day I will drop you as deep into the cloud as I’ve ever gone.”
The voice’s eyes blinked and disappeared. From the corners of the room his smile would appear and vanish. The outline of his lips quivered while he pondered Jarvin’s proposition.
“Hmmmm,” moaned the voice.
Jarvin was circling round and round to keep himself facing the noise when the eyes opened in front of his nose.
“One day. I will sleep for one day and if when I wake I am not in the dust or my rest is disturbed then by nightfall you all, even your dog, will die.”
“Thank—“ Jarvin began to speak but before he could finish his gratitude the darkness was gone and the cart returned to its natural state. Sunbeams shot through the roof where the giant had pounded and tore the metal from itself but slowly the light was blocked again with darkness, giving way to the purple eye that looked in.
Jarvin stepped out of the cart and closed the door after him. The desert sun bathed him, warming his core from the frigid cart and darkness. He closed his eyes and could feel the hair on his arms fall down to ease and the sweat returning to his skin, seeping into a sharp pain all over his forearms. It stung to his wrists so he looked down to find hundreds of tiny cuts raking his arm, a crisscrossed and jagged pattern that only a hateful heart could make.
The giant knelt down to face his friend, placing his tattered hands on the ground and seeping his black blood onto the ground. Jarvin touched the wound and let the black cover his hand.
“I’m so sorry, old friend.”
The giant bowed his head, he was grateful to has his colleague back.
Jarvin’s children ran to him and gave him a great hug, squeezing his waste tight and reinvigorating him with their love. Vashti was not far behind them to give him a kiss and even Canter came to show his relief for the old man being alive and well.
“What was it?” asked Vashti.
“I’m not sure, but it’s intentions are equal parts sinister and saddening,” said Jarvin, “Listen to me. The giant and I must take this cart into the dust. We will take a moment to ready ourselves but under no circumstances is anyone to enter this cart, and better yet we are to stay far away and not make a sound, lest we wish to wake it.”
Vashti nodded her head and gave Jarvin another kiss atop his forehead and hurried the children away.
“May I help you, Jarvin?” asked Canter.
“When I return,” said Jarvin, "For now this is just for the giant and myself.”
Jarvin walked to his friend sitting on the dirt, still watching the cart. He patted his hand to the giant’s back. “Did you hear the proposition?” he asked.
The giant nodded.
“Then let’s bandage you and prepare for the dust once more. I cannot do this without you, my friend,” he said, “I want you to know that there is very we can do without you.”
The giant bowed his head once more.
With their helmets and maps ready the two unhooked the last cart from the rest of the train and started their journey back into the dust. Jarvin did not know how far to go or where was the deepest. The dust could was a mystery and only his compass would be of any use. He climbed atop the colossus’ shoulders and tied himself by the waste to his friend.
“We need to hurry, old friend,” said Jarvin, “We need to go and as far west as possible and any speed you may muster will be necessary for this trip.”
The giant picked up his rope and grimaced at his still raw hands being cut and agitated by the ropes many fibers poking like a cactus. Jarvin rubbed the giants cheek and said, “Let’s make this our last trip east. We can go back for the train steal the engine so that Canter may take over the caravan and you, Vashti, the little ones and I can find a beach like the puzzle. There has to be one somewhere. We deserve rest, you more than anyone… Let’s push off.”
The giant's roar muffled from behind his mask with the pain in his hands as he gave a great pull to the singular cart. He pushed off faster than he had ever run with the lessened weight until they disappeared into the cloud, the two friends, doing what they always have, venturing into uncertainty. They hoped that they would be blessed to make the journey back, to reunite with their family and tribe, who would be lost if they were not to return.
The sun began today set as they took their first steps into the dust storm. The sky was bright orange and the clouds of dust glowed yellow around Jarvin and the giant. He sat upon it's shoulders as they walked further into the storm, dragging the cart to it's final destination and slowly fading into 5 grains of rice connected at their points.