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."