Part 4: The Tonk by charles desrochers

            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. 

 

Part 3: Into The Dust by charles desrochers

            The giant’s face was covered but a great leather mask made from the hide of cattle near the coast to protect him from the thick dirty soup that the party found themselves marching through. Jarvin wore a similar mask of metal and kept his maps under tarp and tent so that they wouldn’t be blown away and the snake lost. The thickness of the dust was such that he couldn’t see the ground on which they traveled and so loud, against his mask like raindrops barraging a tin roof. Around his mouth was the weathered bladder of a goat to keep the finer particles from his lungs, the giant had no such protection and his cough barked loudly and cut through the commotion the storm was causing. The best the poor soul could do was take as few breaths as possible; still enough to fuel his legs and keep the pace to be out of the storm before day’s end.

            Jarvin didn’t speak, had he tried his words would have been lost in the sand before ever reaching the giant's ears. It took most of his agility to reach the shoulders and steer him true. The jump from atop his friend was not unsubstantial and required the full trust of his muscles. They knew where the perch was atop the cart in relation to the colossus and how soon the metal would slam against his feet. Below where he stood all he could see was the granular tan currents rushing under his feet, as if he were standing in a river and caught in a blizzard all at once. He leapt and counted to himself, “one, two three...”

            There was no floor.

            The cart rose beside him and his arm shot to catch anything and save him from the fall but the force was too much for his failing body when he took hold of a gutter jutting out of the front cart. An intense bruising pain spread from his shoulder as his fingers slipped from the roof. He tumbled and turned swinging his body the best he could to right himself, to move his other arm to the side of his cart but in doing so he had forgotten to count the seconds he was falling.

            “This will be a shorter fall,” he thought to himself as he flailed his left hand to the side in an attempt to grab anything on the cart and not lose his way. To fall now in this place would mean a slow death, one in which his skin would bake and lungs would dry until even his blood turned to a fine powder.

            His shoulders hit first then his heels against the ground. He bounced up as the snake moved past him to the third cart and with what little sense he could muster Jarvin managed to grab a hold of one of it’s step rails. The giant was pulling so fast that his feet couldn’t even scrape along the ground. They waved in the air, flapping in like a flag on a violent spring day when the clouds rolled in and the leaves on the trees would turn upward in anticipation for the downpour.  He tried to lift his right arm, the strong arm up to grab the rail but it refused to move. The ball of his shoulder was rubbing it's edges, out of place and useless until it could be reset. His eyes raised to see through the tiny slits of his mask. Sand pelted his eyes and he wanted to let go. Almost none of his senses were of use, his touch was ruined by the pain surging from his shoulder and even taste and smell had forsaken him with the smell of the retched goats bladder around his neck. 

            When he was younger he’d imagined all of the dangers lurking around corners waiting for lonely children such as he to wander away but now he knew the world to be a far less impressive but terrifying place. If he were to fall from the train it wouldn’t take long to go mad. Maybe he’d remove the mask, open his mouth and invite death before the deafening isolation took a hold of him. His fingers held onto the rusty rail as best they could with his body acting like a kite and his grip was the stick anchoring it to the ground. Sharp pain pulsed through his arm to meet the slow burn emanating from the other in the middle of his chest and his breaths became labored, bearing less and less oxygen the harder they worked.

“Why am I fighting,” he said to himself. “What’s the purpose of enduring such pain only to endure more? Might as well get over the whole thing.”

            A finger slipped off the rail as the others lost strength, extending and straitening themselves to forfeiture. This is not the way he would have liked to die, but perhaps time had other plans.  “I’ll let go and I’ll hit the ground. I’ll watch the snake fade into the storm and carry itself away from me along with my tribe. The giant will help Canter across the wasteland, Vashti will help Mika maintain the rituals and order of the tribe and in as many trips the young spouses will be the heads. The tribe will be theirs to care for, to do with it what they wish and Canter may even come to use his own maps in time.  Jarvin will be a distant memory then, someone who maintained rather than innovate, survived rather than flourish."

            “And the colossus,” a thought in his head sparked like a firefly on a clear black night. “Will he fade into memory? Will the tribe allow him the fortune of a long life or run him to the ground? The elders knew him as a gentle soul who cared for them, moving the train out of the kindness of his heart, but the new generation may look on him as a pet, a means to an end.”

            He imagined the giant dragging the snake behind his tall and slender body, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. His black silhouette hanging from his frame with only a silver hood to leash and cover his head so that he could no longer steer or speak with his bright eyes. Behind him would be a new tribesman, one far removed from the old ways with a whip, slashing at the giant’s back, asking more of him and not knowing of what he’s already given.

            In the dry heat with sand filling the air like fog on a calm late-autumn morning Jarvin felt a wetness on his cheek. It ran down to his lips and stung his soars as he licked them to taste the salt. It was a tear. He had stayed so stoic in the face of this doom while his body fly in the wind that he hadn't realized thinking of the giant broke him. Jarvin took a deep breath and spit out all of his air as he tightened every fiber in his body to pull himself up to the rail and on to the step. He leaned on to the wall, kicking wildly to find footing until his toes finally pushed off of the steps and his entire body was safe for the time being.

            With his arm still dislocated at the shoulder Jarvin caught his breath in this small doorway of the third car that nook created a vacuum around him and deadened the noise. He threw back his mask and removed the mouth guard to finally take in a deep breath that wasn’t bathed in old goat piss. The air rushed into his lungs like water to a gorge while he fiercely gulped in more and more into his nose and out his mouth.

            Finally calm, Jarvin looked to his right and touched the bulging lump at his shoulder. His fingers traced his collar bone down to his arm and found where it rest outside of the socket. He tried to push it in but the pain was too much. He clenched his teeth but again couldn’t force it back. He let out a scream, one so loud that he feared the family of the cart he found himself at would peer out, but none did. Pulling himself to stand on the steps in the doorway he leaned as far back to one side as possible and put his foot to the far wall. Tilting on the opposite wall he calmed his nerves and with all of his might pushed off and slammed the bad shoulder into place. The scream rattled the steal around him.

            Moments passed and Jarvin worked his arm, the joint was still tender but he could bare weight on it once more. With his mask and guard back around his face he slinked out of the cart like a cat, staying as close to the surface as possible to not create drag. The gaps between carts were no greater problem than the crawl up the metal and in a short time he was back to the front atop his perch. Jarvin did not know how long he had struggled to return or if the caravan was still on track. Without rest he poked into his tarp for the map and studied the immediate surroundings hoping to find their course. His focus was primal as he looked for anything that would resemble his markings and when out of the corner of his eye he saw a rock with three strikes along the ground. He darted his head back to the tarp and searched frantically for the marking on where he thought they were. None of his maps had the stone on then but he knew that the strikes had to signify something, and if not make by him then by who. He looked over his map once more and still couldn't find the marked stone. He took out every map in a frenzy, even ones he thought long outdated and obsolete and there on one of his brownest and oldest maps, one of his father's first maps as Chief he found the stone. The map showed the storm to be in another place entirely but the three strikes upon it were unmistakable. 

            From the looks of it he would have to turn north to correct their course and leave this place so before he lost his bearing he climbed up to the giant’s shoulder and patted him to the left. The giant turned with the suggestion until Jarvin told him to stop and the train was once again on its way.

            He looked to the ground again and saw no difference in conditions between now and the fall. He stalled and froze like in front of the other train and couldn’t bring himself to make the jump again. He inched himself forward and could feel his bottom sliding off when from behind his head came a moan.

            “MMMMM,” said the giant from behind his leather mast.

            Jarvin looked to him as he moaned again, “MMMMMM!”

            Jarvin sat for a moment trying to figure out what the moan meant before the giant turned his head and Jarvin could see the faintest of purple through the slits of his mask. He didn’t need to see the rest. The two were scared, which in a strange way comforted Jarvin. He moved to the giant’s neck and held it tight as not to fall and there he sat, closing his eyes for small periods then opening them again to find himself next to a fire with his family at camp under a clear night's sky. The mood was somber and the energy low as Vashti sat in silence next to him.

            “We made it out all right,” she said, “Looks like you took a tumble in the dust.”

            She pointed at his should to show that it had been reset and bandaged.

            “Next time tie a rope around yourself,” she said,  “so we don’t lose you, love.”

            Jarvin nodded and gave his wife a kiss.

            “I’ll make my way to bed,“ he said while he got up from the fire, “Good night."

Part 2: The Lonely Train by charles desrochers

            The first light of day set the dust on fire, bathing the tribe in a yellow and green glow while they prepared to set off, moving their tents back to the carts and collecting their well pumps. As it turns out the spot was a good one and the caravan's water reserves were filled to the brim. Jarvin kissed his children and wife before leaving them in their quarters and made his way to the giant, who was loosening his bones for the pull ahead of him.

            “Almost ready, old friend?” asked Jarvin. The giant continued his routine and nodded his head.

            “It was a good night. We won’t be in for many of those in the coming months.” He posited to the colossus, who nodded again. Jarvin stepped up to his perch atop the first cart near waist high to the giant and readied his tools: binoculars, compasses, and gave the signal to push off. The giant picked up the rope, and with a roar from both the being and the metal behind him, the snake set off.

            Hours past and Jarvin could tell the colossus was well rested. They were moving at a pace near double to the day before. It was steady and strong with him noticeably less tiresome. Black still dripped from the giant’s brow but no more than the sweat on Jarvin’s own face in the heat. He was dutiful to look to his tools and mark their location, finding monuments and landmarks in the distance to help him navigate. In the distance, a half day's journey away, lay a series of bricks that were dark and indistinguishable. Jarvin checked it against his map and said nothing of it to the giant until it came closer. The horizon tends to play tricks on the mind and the fact that he could did not mark it on any of his parchments and notes meant nothing until he knew it were more tangible, but the thought of steering his company wrong is always a fear of a chief, though it rarely happened.

            Later that day he found it to not be an illusion of the dust but a reality. It was not a chain of rocks or mounds but another train. As the giant pulled closer Jarvin could make out the metal cages and boxcars, with smoke rising from the front stack. By the end of the day the party reached the train. The engine felt warm to the touch. The pilot’s cart was empty. A half filled teacup sat on the dining table atop white cloth but there was no sign of any life. The air felt used inside his nose. The desert had a distinct lack of smell, like nothing had lived, loved, or slept in it for eons. This train had a smell. Different musk and perfumes filled each compartment as Jarvin made his way to the tail of the living quarter carts but with each one he found there to be nothing at all.

            He stood and stared at the near 20 boxcars. His caravan was only commissioned to carry its load and for the giant to drag these goods as well was too much for Jarvin to ask.  There was no reason for him to concern himself with the contents. It was a pointless exercise and would be a waste but the sun began to set behind train and Jarvin instructed the tribe to make camp for the night. Under no circumstance, he said, were they to enter. They had no need for the engine, it would fail and need repairs the party couldn’t perform without studying the piece first, and he had hoped that by his example there’d be no need to scavenge the abandonment.

            That night the camp wasn’t as jovial as it normally was. The families didn’t unpack their tents and sleeping bags. They intended on sleeping in the carts for the night with fires near the doors for warmth. Word spread through the snake of why the train was abandoned. Some believed food had run out and the party wandered away to forage while others believed there to be a dark presence within its boxcars. Jarvin lay atop the giant’s chest in front of his lead trolly. As it’s lungs ballooned and collapsed with his breath Jarvin looked to the sky to count shooting stars. Not a peep came from his tribe; even the fires seemed to burn with less life than normally. The giant moaned in slumber, resting his weary muscles for the next day. When they were younger the giant would go out into the wild with Jarvin to explore whenever they felt something out in the endless dark around them. He was a brave lad back then, it comforted to know that the giant came from the darkness and made him unafraid to find what else lay in the shadows of this undiscovered lands.

            Tonight he was restless. He’d try to clear his thoughts for the days coming but like lightning the train would flash into his mind. The more he tried to concentrate on their route or his family the more the abandoned train would worm its way until it was all he could think about.

          He found himself standing next to it, running his hand along the cold metal ridges of the box cars. It wasn’t the cold that worried him, it was the lack of life, the death that clouded the entire train that put him on edge. He wandered two cars back and stopped in his tracks. Something he hadn’t felt in a very long time, fear, the fear that comes over a person when they don’t know what lurks before them. The kind that a person feels when they wander the woods and know that somewhere amongst the brush and trees is a pack of wolves biding their time for the kill, but until that point they stay quiet and unseen to their prey.  He tried moving his foot forward but they refused. He wanted to move his hand to the handles of the cart but they stayed frozen by his side.

            Sweat began to run from his brow, over his eye and down his cheek. Once it crossed his lids he couldn’t tell if he was crying with this fear or if it was the sweat that was still running down his face. He hated his paralysis; old age would take his mobility but not yet. He clenched his teeth and flexed his muscles with all of his might but still they wouldn’t budge as if bound to him with straps and buckles, a prisoner. Try all he could but still there was nothing. His limbs refused to listen to what he had to say as his head quivered with struggle.

            With one more effort he willed his feet to shuffle just one step forward but they refused as well until from next to him he heard the lightest of whimpers, a squeal like a pin prick in the air darting off the train and his caravan.  He snapped his head to one side then the other but there was nothing. He turned around to see what was behind him but again there was only the night’s cold air.  The noise had come from him.

            From his camp he could see the giant’s eyes blinking curiously at him. The squeal must have woke him and now he made his way to the abandoned train to see what had frightened his friend so. In just a few of his long strides he made his way to Jarvin and knelt down beside him and stood at him with worried eyes.

            “I’m fine,” said Jarvin, “Just nerves is all. Go back to resting.”

            The giant shook his head.

            “Go now,” Jarvin implored, “We’ve a long day tomorrow and you need your strength far more than I.”

            The giant leered at him with his violet eyes and stood tall, towering over all around him and struck a mighty pose with his fists clenched in the air and arms bulging.

            “Right, right, right,” said Jarvin, “I forgot how strong you are.”

            The giant fell back to eye level with his friend and hardily snorted his nose. Jarvin chuckled. He always knew when Jarvin was feeling melancholic and new exactly how to lighten his mood. All of the day-to-day worries slid away thanks to his friend but he knew there would come a time when the gentle colossus would be gone, either dead or too old. He’d like to think that there would always be a place in his life for him but that may not be the case once the caravan stops running, or even worse, what will happen to his friend if he were to fall first and leave him to the caravan without someone who knew him more than their means of transportation.

            “What do you suppose is in this train?” asked Jarvin.

            The giant’s shoulders shrugged. He sniffed the air with wide eyes until they closed slightly, inquisitive with a sent from further down the old train.

            “Something worrying you over there?” Jarvin asked.

            The giant stood up and walked cautiously to the back of the train until he reached the last box car and bent down with his knees pointing up and hands on the ground. Jarvin made his way to the back but he knew that they shouldn’t be adventuring as if they were children again. Situations tend to have more serious repercussions the older one gets. His father would come to their rescue whenever the giant would become stuck between rocks or Jarvin had twisted his ankle but there was no such help now.  All they had was one another and if both were going into danger then they had both proceed with caution. Once a chief needs to rely on his tribe he ceases to be the leader, the rock for which others to lean on. Theirs was a peaceful tribe but with harsh rules regarding the chief- someone who cannot help himself cannot help the whole.

            Jarvin reached the last boxcar’s door and found the giant to be growling. His eyes were slits pointing sharply to his mouth, vibrating along with his body. Jarvin walked to the handle and stuck out his hand only to have the Giant dart his vicious gaze to him.

            “There’s nothing to worry about,” said Jarvin, “We open it, make sure there’s nothing dangerous and then we can go to bed knowing the caravan is safe.”

            The giant’s eyes rolled back to the door and he leaned forward so that most of his wait were on his hands like a lion readying to pounce. Jarvin grabbed the handle and clenched it tight, looking back to his friend who in turn nodded his head and growled louder.

            With a deep breath and exhale Jarvin pulled on the handle as hard as he could, slamming the door into itself so that the car was as wide open as possible. The giant came to his feet, holding out his massive hands to catch whatever may have been in the cart waiting for them to come. The chief almost didn’t want to look, he was still terrified of what may be inside but his friend gave him the courage to do what he thought was best. The swing to open the door was so mighty that he had turned around, his own poncho flowing in the wind and blocking the view of the open cart until he came back around to see the giant waiting in his readied stance but nothing was emerging from the cart.

            The two waited a moment. In their minds there was to be a great battle between giant, man and beast but the seconds rolled by and nothing. The same empty filled the air as before and nothing, not even dust was coming out of the box car. It was Jarvin who first budged, straightening his knees out and inching to the cart. The giant stayed where he was, close to Jarvin. They peered in but there was nothing.

           It was dark and the night’s moon was too dim to illuminate the dust around them, so he stared into the back of the car, into nothingness, waiting for any semblance of life to justify the feeling that had brought him to look to the train in the first place. But there was still nothing.  He took out his torch and lit it, shining it to the back but found nothing, just an empty cart at the end of an empty train in an empty world. Once he had shined the light into every corner it could reach he was satisfied and believed that his thoughts had indeed gotten the best of him that night. Like when he was younger he had imagined creatures that were impossible, knowing full well that with the exception of his old friend that none such things existed.

            He climbed out of the cart and jumped to the ground.

            “Nothing, friend,” he said, but the giant was still curious. He sniffed the air and leered once again as he slowly inched his head closer  and closer to the cart.

            “Do what you will,” Jarvin said, “but don’t complain when you’re tired and sore tomorrow. I don’t wish to hear it.”

             Jarvin began to walk back to his lead cart, shrugging off the cold that he was suddenly feeling. He pulled his poncho closer to his body and shivered, spitting out clouds of frozen breathes when in the distance a great bark came from the cart, snapping his head around to look at the giant. He could barely make out his outline closing the door and with great steps gallop towards him. With his paw swiping down Jarvin was scooped up and brought to the head of his caravan. The giant moved swiftly, kicking up wind and  dust in their wake while the sharp points of his feet darted over the trams and fires. He placed Jarvin into his post at the lead cart and took the rope to his shoulder. With a great “AARRRGHH” The giant pulled as hard as he could and in less than a moment the snake was moving as briskly as Jarvin had seen it in decades. He turned to look at the other train as it moved further and further away into the distance, expecting to see some great danger but instead he saw nothing, just a dead husk.

            “What are you doing?” Jarvin yelled, “People are trying to sleep!"

            The giant paid no attention to his chief and continued to move feverishly into the night until the sun rose. He threw the rope down and looking past Jarvin moved to his trough, grabbing the hose to pour himself water.

            “Old friend, what has gotten into you?” yelled Jarvin, but there was no response. 

            “I do not know where we are and I will need a moment to get our bearings!The night was dark and I could not see.

            The colossus looked to the chief with stern eyes before going back to the front and again lifting the rope to his shoulder. He stood impatiently waiting for Jarvin to move back to his perch but he refused. The giant’s patience quickly ran thin as he grabbed Jarvin once more and put him atop the perch himself and pulled off. Jarvin knew it was pointless to argue with him at this point so he took out his tools, searching through binoculars measuring time with hourglasses and checking them against his charts and maps until finding where in the vastness of the badlands they were exactly. The giant moved so fast and with no breaks that it took nearly all day to get a general sense of where they were. They had done this trip hundreds of times and were not too far astray, but still off course and towards the windswept fields. They would lose a day to go around or they could push on and be back on track in a half day’s time if Jarvin paid close attention to the monuments and steered them correctly.

            As before, the giant stopped his march when the sun went down. The tribe poured off of the caravan and headed straight to the front to confront the two.

            “Jarvin! What’s the meaning of this day? We hadn’t stopped for rations nor even readied for the day’s travels.” Yelled an old woman.

            “How are we supposed to cook and eat if we cannot build a fire to do so. Would you like us to go hungry?” yelled another man from the back.

            Jarvin looked to the giant, who was so tired that the ground around him was covered in his black sweat and he almost disappeared into it. The giant looked to him and, rather than the stubborn determined eyes of before, were softer yet disturbed ones. He could tell that there wasn’t any fight in him.

            “We wanted to try a new route,” said Jarvin to the huddled crowd, “Just because we’ve made this journey so many times does not mean that we may become complacent with it’s method.”

            A younger man, Canter, the husband of his daughter Mika, came out from the crowd.

            “Well?” he asked, “did we make any time?”

            Jarvin looked to his readings and back to the crowd. “Yes, but we now need to go through the dust storms. The crowd erupted in disapproval but he soon tried to calm them down.

            “A half day at most,” he said, “we will be through and then we may take the rest of the day for food and pleasures. I swear. Now, take to your carts and ready for the night and the next day. We will not stop until we are through the dust.”

            The crowd began to disperse but Canter stayed to speak with Jarvin in private.

            “Jarvin, with respect, was this your plan or his?” he asked.

            “He and I are partners, just as you with my daughter and I with her mother. Our decisions are as one.”

            “Very well.”

            Canter bowed and tended to the family. Jarvin thought of the analogy he had used, 'He to his wife.' 

            Truth was that Jarvin barely spoke to his wife, not for resentment’s sake but the two had their duties with him as Chief and her as the Tribe Mother and the two roles rarely crossed save for the night’s campfires. Jarvin knew one day Canter would be the chief if he wished so he allowed him to enjoy the company of his daughter while the two had time to spare. In the meantime Jarvin went to the giant to see how he was feeling and if he could figure what had startled him.

            The giant stood at the water spout pouring gulps into his mouth and onto his head, washing the black sweat off of his body. Jarvin hadn’t seen him work so hard in a very long time; he worried.

            “That was good timing, friend,” said Jarvin.

            The giant put the spout down and moved to his trough where food had been prepared and dumped for him. The giant took a scoop with his hand and came to sit next to Jarvin, holding out his palm for him to stand on. He lifted Jarvin atop his shoulder and the two stared into the horizon and watched the sun slip slowly into it’s pinks and greens and yellows. The giant ate slowly and Jarvin sat in silence next to his great head.

            “I did not see anything in the trailer,” Jarvin finally said after minutes of silence, “Did you?

            The giant shoveled the last bit of food into his mouth, licked his hands and nodded his head, grumbling in agreement.

            “I searched all over the cart. There was nothing in it, I’m sure of it.”

            The giant turned his head to face him with his eyes rich in purple and expressing a wary heart. Jarvin took his hand and pet what seemed to be the giant’s cheek lovingly.

            “Our time’s coming to a close soon isn’t it?” asked Jarvin. The giant closed his eyes and nodded, “Mhm.”

            “My lord,” said Jarvin, “Where did all of that time go. Weren’t we young once, in the cave, playing games and laughing?”

            The giant turned to face the sun once again as it’s top dipped into the earth and vibrant colors of it’s setting disappeared.

            “I suppose I’ll have to teach Canter to navigate soon,” said Jarvin.

            The giant’s head swung in disagreement to the notion that the boy would be telling him where to go and when to stop. He was gentle and loving but stubborn after all. He wouldn’t listen to such a novice.

            Jarvin laughed, “Just for a little. We need you to help him and then I’ll procure an engine for this tram and the two of us can relax in our old age. I’ll fashion a cart twice your size so that you may finally rest and we can laugh once again like in the old days.”

            The giant slowly closed his eyes and let out a great sight, “Mmmmm.”

            “Yes, that would be great, old friend,” said Jarvin as he leaned his head onto the giant’s.

 

            The morning after saw the two standing at the front of the train upon the great wall of dust and sand in the windswept land that they were about to journey into. Jarvin turned with his oil can and went about greasing the wheels before the harsh trip. The dry dirt crushed under his feet as he made his way down the caravan and checked in with the members of each cart.

            He walked to the third cart and yelled, “Vashti!” to his wife before she poked her sun kissed head out of the porthole, “Are the children ready for the trip?”

            “Aye, they are, dear” she said in return. One by one he hollered and called to the occupants of each tram until finally reaching the last cart. He often felt sorry for the tribesman that found themselves so far back but such was the reality of a train.

            “Ulrich,” he called out, but heard no answer.

            “Ulrich,” he yelled again, “Janda!” and still nothing came from the cart. He finished dropping the thick oil onto the bearings of the wheels and went to door to knock.

            “Ulrich, Janda, we’re about to break off into the dust,” he shouted, “Is your family ready?”

            He stood at the door and heard a rumbling in the cart but no response to his question. He knocked once more and the scuttling stopped. Jarvin didn’t have time for such nonsense as it would take the better part of the day to get through the storm if he were to steer them even slightly off course. He grabbed the handle to the door and began to twist when a commotion came from inside.

            “Ready,” a voice said.

            “We’re pushing off, Ulrich. Is your family not set?” shouted Jarvin through the door.

            “Family set,” the voice said.

            Jarvin didn’t recognize the voice. Ulrich’s was a booming one that echoed joy and hearty tales through the campfire. This was light, ethereal and in a way mischievous.

            “Can I come in?” he asked.

            “No,” said the voice in return, “We are set. Janda sleeps. Please go.”

            Jarvin let go of the handle and took a step back from the camper. He looked through the windows to see if there was motion or not but it was not his place to barge into carts unwanted. He grabbed his oilcan to return to the perch. With every crunchy footstep he took away from the last cart of the train the preasure in his mind eased and he relaxed. Surely Ulrich was sick, he thought. The night’s have been colder and he is prone to his drink. Wind blew past his ears and a metallic thud thundered from behind him. He turned to find where the noise came from but nothing out of the ordinary could be seen, save for the door of the last cart being left open.

            Jarvin swiveled his head and steadied his eyes to see what had come out, if anything but heard and saw nothing. He placed the can onto the floor and took one step back to the cart and with that the door violently shut itself. In an attempt to steady himself, he thought that it must be Ulrich recovering from his drink. On the mornings after he’d drink his duties were later to begin and slower to start so he was willing to give poor Ulrich the benefit of the doubt if that was the case. 

Part 1: Jarvin & The Giant by charles desrochers

     Along the cold night’s floor, where dust blows high and so strong that vermin fly through the air and the world is washed red with the glow from the moon’s light dancing across the particles lay a desolate land both flat and endless. These were once fields that stretched as far as the imagination, bringing food and fuel to the billions of townships spread throughout the super continent, many of which hid amongst the reads that they so tenderly nourished and harvest throughout the year. The Fall would bring festivals and flyers, families celebrating in their relief that they had produced bounties aplenty for themselves and the great cities that lay far far away. Over time though, the reeds grew less and less while the cities multiplied. The families no longer celebrated for their could barely feed themselves with what was left of their crop and soon the earth was so starved and the air so dry that nothing would grow. Most fled to the cities and of them the majority did not survive the long trip and those who stayed were slowly withered by the heat and swallowed by the dust, leaving this land, once gorgeous in its lushness and vivid colors, desolate and abandoned.

     A cloud sits at the edges of either coast. Dreamers look upon it and wonder the terrors that hide amongst the dust, waiting for their chance to break free and run through the cities to steal away the bad children. They’d be taken to tents or caves where man hasn't been in generations and string them up to dried for eating later on. This is at least what the parents tell their young ones so that they behave. It's a story, an old wive's tale as far as anyone can tell but no one can remember a time before the stories. The books tell of the riches of the old world but not of the horrors. Maybe they were real? Knowing this the men and woman lay in bed, watching the windows, waiting for dark shapes to cross their curtains and punish them for the many transgressions they’ve committed.  If anything they were more frightened than the children. In the grander scheme what does a stolen piece of candy or a shove into the mud matter in comparison to cheating on your wife, stealing a house through broken mortgages or conning your neighbors? On the best of days they forget about the dust, but this is only for moments, until they look to the city's border at the plumes awaiting them, holding secrets. 

     It’s in this desolation and wind swept nothingness that we find a party, a caravan of brave souls, carrying word and goods from east to west. No one eve sees them; their payments are automatic and their cargo is preloaded onto trailers and carts. For one night only they will be on the edge of town, as quiet as death, and in the morning all that will be left are the supplies that they were to deliver and empty carts. The merchants that benefit from this arrangement don’t question it. They don’t wonder how it is that such a journey can be made without gasoline or power from the sun. In their eyes the system works, so there’s no need to question it.

     Once in a long while a brave soul- and probably a child because only a child would be so bold and curious to question such a mundane happening as the comings and goings of commerce- will look out at the wasteland when the sun hangs low in the sky and begins to kiss the earth. They won’t see it at first but eventually a dot will appear on the horizon. Moments and minutes will pass and the shape of a man will appear. Just as the arms and legs come into their own, like 4 dark grains of rice hanging on one another from the center, the sun sets and the day turns to night.

     By morning the goods will be gone and the caravan will be some hundreds of miles away. It doesn’t move by machine or sail, instead it inches along by the graces of a giant who pulls at the front of the metal snake. Labored step by labored step it digs its sharp legs to the ground and steady like hydraulics moves forward. He (or she) is a colossus, pulling a great rope over its shoulder for days and through nights when needed. It towers over all else in the landscape and its skin as dark as eyes shut tight.  It’s features are drowned in the blackness so that nothing but his silhouette can be made out, save for the poncho it wears at the request by mothers of the tribe, assuming that if it had genitalia then presumably decency would be required. 

     The land is quiet but for the wind blowing by the giant’s ears. It blows and howls past the metal cages, flapping the tarps and curtains of the carts while rusty wheels grind and squeak. The giant’s footsteps are quiet, like a knife stabbing at the sand. Its body will hurt and he will groan, letting out a low boom like a barge rubbing against the dock but that’s when Jarvin will pop his head up to attention from a day dream and look to his friend. In but a moment he’ll throw a large canteen onto his back and climb up the giant’s shoulders and present the fresh water. The colossus doesn’t do this because he is forced to, there are no shackles and no leash on his neck. It’s by his good graces that this trip is made.

     Jarvin asks, “How feels you, friend?”

    The giant ignores, it’s a stubborn and proud creature after all. Jarvin clanked his fist against the canteen to grab his attention once more but the giant moans and shakes his head. Sometimes he’ll be gracious enough to accept the water but he knows he's been stopping more than in the past. These two have been together since Jarvin was a boy and he knows that one day just as his own body has grown old week and slow that so will the giant's. That will be the end of the caravan. He only hopes that when the giant finally gives up that they will be near the coast. Jarvin dreads that day when the giant returns to the wasteland he came from though, not because it signifies his own end of relevancy or livelihood but because in all the years that they’ve ping ponged east to west and back again this giant has been his dearest friend.

            Jarvin splashes the giant with some water but he continues on his walk. Jarvin takes a sip of the water himself and relishes it.

            “Mmmm, refreshing!” he shouts into the giant’s ear. With another swig he gargles and spits it at the giant to goad him to turn his head finally.

            “See?” taunts Jarvin.

     The giant takes his great hand and swings it to Jarvin as he tosses the canteen to its paw. His foot slips on the monstrous shoulder but while he may be old he can still climb and scamper the giant like in the old days. He tumbles and catches the poncho to swing over to the opposite shoulder to see the giant sloshing back the gallons of water into the void that is presumably its mouth. Thud after thud of the giant’s throat gulping down the water bellow across the desert while Jarvin stands by his friend. When done he returns the canteen to Jarvin, who takes a drink from the little remains and the two face one another. The giant can’t talk, or at least he never has, but he and Jarvin know how to speak. The giant seems to understand what Jarvin says and Jarvin reads his body. The two even joke with one another, as the giant knows how awkward his body is in enormity and is quick to use it to exaggerate. For some of the finer points though Jarvin will look to his eyes, a deep and near luminous purple.

            “Tired?” asks Jarvin as the giant shakes his head and holds it proud. But Jarvin knows better. The giant’s eyes are weary and he’s wet to the touch, leaving Jarvin’s hands black with the giant’s sweat.

            “Well, I am. Let’s break, you and I.”

            The giant’s head nods as he picks Jarvin off of his shoulder, lowering him gently to the ground before collapsing to the ground himself with a sound of thunder when his rear hit.

            Jarvin chuckles at the giant. “I’ll check on the rest. Eat! We are not what we once were and I'd rather be fat and happy than trim, weak and vein,” he says.

            With a great finger extended the giant pokes Jarvin in his belly.

            “Ha! Well maybe I could spare a meal or two,” laughs Jarvin before the Giant lets out a cackle of his own.

            The giant wasn’t always so jovial, remembers Jarvin. There was a time when he was small and scared, afraid of even the slightest sounds that come from the desert.

           

            It was a day long ago when Jarvin was a young lad. The tribe had stopped to camp inside the great caves to wait out a sand storm and repair their motorcades engines. Huddled in the darkness of the cave were the hundred or so tribesmen around their fires trying to stay warm and trade gossip. Jarvin had a natural sense of wonder back then. He refused to believe that nothing had survived the endless summers that burnt the land. He knew that somewhere among the hills and hiding in holes were creatures that only his imagination could conjure. Sitting next to his father, who then was the chief at the front of the motorcade, he'd hold his eyes open until they hurt, refusing to blink, until shapes took form over the horizon and he'd create stories in his mind of serpents battling giant spiders and cities that only exist when the sun hits them on at dusk or dawn or only exist with closed eyes.

            He wandered away from the fires and decided to explore the caves that were said to stretch underground for miles. He looked to the darkness and felt something hiding away, something near and watching. He ran to one of the old maiden’s carts and stole a ball of yarn and tied it to a nearby rock so that he may find his way back. 

            Into the cave he wandered until the spool of string ran out. He turned off his torch and all traces of light vanished. He had taken so many corners and stretched the yarn so tight to it’s length that not even the sound of the camp could follow but he looked ahead and had the same feeling of being stalked as when he started his trek. So, in the morning he stole more thread and ventured further. Then he did the same for the next morning and the morning after that until he was forgoing all sleep to see how far the caves burrowed into the world until one day he stopped.

            Jarvin reached a wall and rather than turning back and choosing another path he studied it, feeling that presence from before. He dropped his yarn and stood before it, running his hands along the cold and sharp rocks. They were wet and near freezing but as black as anything he had ever seen. It was like standing in the threshold of reality, where god had decided to end the day when he built the earth, thinking, “I’m getting distracted, I still have so much to do.”

            Then, as his hand went along the crag the rocks turned from hard and cold to soft and warm. He pushed in and the rocks gave with him. He wondered if it were some sort of dirt or moss as he attempted to shake it loose but it didn’t budge, he thought he could hear the ground move behind it in a moan. The noise was so unnatural and sad that he stopped being so aggression to budge it. He returned to tracing it with his hand until he reached a rounded top to it where it met the rocks. Then, as he gently pet the blackness two purple orbs revealed themselves and floated to his level. Jarvin thought to himself that he had finally found the wonders he had always been looking for and he took  a snack from his pocket and presented it. He couldn’t see the hand extend but his hand disappeared as it grabbed the snack and he saw it float up bit by bit disappear into it’s mouth.

            The storm persisted so Jarvin returned every night with more food and more water. The two would play games a hide and seek of sorts. It would close his eyes and disappear into the cave while Jarvin tried to find him. They would have gotten lost if it weren’t for the younger giant making noises to keep Jarvin close. Jarvin was the youngest of the caravan and never had the chance to play with other children, so the creature quickly became his closest friend and when it came time to leave the caves and continue on their journey out of the wasteland Jarvin brought the giant to his father. At first the tribe was hesitant towards the beast, thinking it be wild and untamed but father saw how he was with Jarvin and took the chance. On that day he was Jarvin’s height but over the years he grew and grew. When the engines finally stopped he took it upon himself to tie the rope at the front of the train and pull, where he’d be with Jarvin as the two grew older.

 

            Jarvin made his way down the train to rub oil onto the wheels as the tribe poked their heads out of the carts.

            “Jarvin, how long can we expect to be stopped?” asked one of the men. Jarvin looked at his friend at the front, sitting in a pool of his black sweat.

            “Thus far, we’ve made good time. We’ll be stopping for the night, Canter,” said Jarvin.

            “There’s still 6 hours until sundown! Why not make this a quick break and continue until dusk?” asked Canter.

            Jarvin looked again to the giant to see him running a hose and gulping at all of the water he could before moving to his trough. The woman charged with feeding him always assumed he would viciously dive into the mess but he kept his manners and only ate one handful at a time. He looked to the woman and made sure they could see his eyes.

            “Mmmmm,” he moaned.

            “My god, is he randy?” asked one of the women new to the duty.

            “Don’t be silly,” said one of the veteran woman. “That’s how she thanks us, showing us she likes it.”

            “How do we know it’s a girl,” asked the new woman, who came from the back of the train and married towards the front.

            “We don’t but if the men are going to call it a man then I choose to call her a her,” said the old woman before she looked towards the giant. “You’re very welcome, dearie.”

            Once Jarvin was done with his oil duties he moved back to the giant who sat in the shade of the second cart, the lone double decker where Jarvin and his family lived with their more closer relatives in the tribe.

            “We’ll be stopping for the night,” Jarvin shouted to his friend, who opened his eyes and shook his head in protest.  His eyes squinted as if Jarvin was challenging his fortitude and determination.

            “Well if you’d like to keep pulling the cart for the rest of the day then be my guest. I just mean to say that you’ve been puling so fast and hard that we’re far ahead of schedule and can spare the afternoon.”

            The giant’s eyes turned to acute triangles pointed at Jarvin, he didn’t know if he should accept the compliment or not.

            “I know I need a break at least, these old eyes don’t catch as many markings as they used to. Lest you’d like to wander the desert with no direction or notion of where we are then a break is in order so that I may navigate us correctly.” Jarvin said to the giant with a long pause before the giant nodded his head and leaned back against the cart to rest. 

            The night was warm for the season. In one year the troupe will make eight trips back and forth, four complete in total and this was the sixth of the year. This is when the nights turn cold and long. The stars had come out to light the sky and the moon lit the dust in the air to give the land a pale glow. On colder nights the place feels haunted with only the noises of the campfire and wind. The giant even stays quiet on nights like these, sometimes closing his eyes and disappearing into the darkness. Jarvin wondered if the giant knew something he didn’t, that there was something to be scared of that hid in the day and lurked in the nightime. He had theories of why the giant was so dark, perhaps that in the caves it was the best camouflage against predators, but he had never seen such beasts, only the giant. The creatures he imagined when he was younger never showed themselves and when he reached the horizons where he’d see the mighty battle would be more dirt and no such life. On nights like this though, when it was warm enough to sleep in the open Jarvin stared at the stars with his children and humored them as they told him stories they had learned in the day's classes.