Hanging out from the strange men, the trip through the desert takes about eight hours, enough time for Alfonso to get lost countless times in recurring thoughts, memories of days gone by when existence seemed superfluous, and unnecessary to him. It is just now that, taken by fear, he hopes to continue living despite, or better said, above all the dangers that for sure await him at the end of this new journey through the desert.
The journey ends abruptly as Alfonso falls heavy on the ground again and his eyes are unblinded, night falling on top of him. There are flames in torches that intermittently illuminate the space between him and Pedro, who’s on the other side of the circle, drawn with white stones, which separates the both of them from the exalted crowd looking anxiously at them by the sides of the improvised quadrilateral. Women, old people, and even children await the beginning of the festivities raising their voices to the stars, and energetic songs are heard throughout, in the same indecipherable language as the one the men spoke early on. One of those men walks among the crowd as they open the way for him to gloriously pass. He carries along two long bones, human femurs, Alfonso horrifyingly supposes. Truth is that having witnessed the dismemberment of Pedro’s brother before was enough of a hint. The man buries a bone in the sand, near Alfonso, and another near Pedro. Then, he approaches the center of the circle and introduces himself to the rest of the people. He bows and addresses Alfonso and Pedro in perfect English, he points out clear and simple rules for the festival to succeed. Both Alfonso and Pedro are to fight with the bones as weapons, only one can survive and the battle will not end until either of them falls to his demise.
- Tell me, what do you desire?
A question echoes in Alfonso’s mind, words that the wind does not bring with it and that no person has pronounced.
- Do you want to see?
The voice returns, and a tingling leads Alfonso to raise his gaze above Pedro, further back from the people who are shouting effusively. There, barely visible in the darkness, an extremely thin woman, her long black hair covering her sex and breasts, her arms as thin as branches, her ribs marked, buried. She sits on a structure that Alfonso is unable to decipher. Her feline eyes are fixed on his.
- Tell me, what do you want? Give me the life of that man and you will have it.
Alfonso can only think of Amelia and the car in the middle of the road. Whether the hours they spent together actually happened or were all an illusion, it is all he can wish for.
- That even the life of a burning man is not enough to pay for this riddle to end.
The woman smiles and a warm breeze lifts the ashes from the torches to the stars. Time rewinds, the sun rides back from the slept horizon back to life and forth across the sky, the stars regain the intensity lost in movement and the days return to the car and the woman sleeping inside.
- Life is the choice to move, to move is to stay, to remain.
Standing outside the car, Alfonso prepares to leave in search of help, Amelia sleeps inside. He wants to turn around, get back in the car and see her once more. He stretches out his arms and almost manages to touch the window, but almost is an eternal space that stands between him and the car.
- What do you say?
The voice brings him back to the dark night, to the burning torches, to the ecstatic shouts of the spectators, and to Pedro, who comes toward him with the long bone in hand, raging in fury he throws himself against Alfonso. Savage, and liberated, Pedro has surely been offered a similar bargain. Alfonso leaves his thoughts aside and jumps to the side to avoid the first attack.
- Wait! We don’t have to do this.
Useless, Pedro does not listen to Alfonso’s words, takes the bone with strength, and attacks for a second time, Alfonso does not manage to avoid completely the blow, ends up receiving it in the left arm, and falls flat on the floor.
- He’s hurt.
Breathing heavily, the pain in his arm prevents him from moving or thinking clearly, he has lost sight of Pedro, and his eyes rest for a few seconds on the woman, who is still looking at him.
- Take what you wish.
The voice sentences, the sands rise, the music drowns, the sun embraces, Amelia sleeps, the fly dies, his feet hurt, and the old man burns. Alfonso receives the next blow directly in the stomach, flies through the air, and falls into the sand for the second time, blood spilled in the sand this time. Pedro balances the bone in his hands, feels victorious, apologizes, and remembers his brother, there is a way to bring him back to life, this is not personal.
- Take it, now!
The voice returns and a war cry emerges from within, from the entrails of Alfonso, like an intense howl that fuses with the moon and the stars. The roar leads him to get up with new strength, and forgetting about the pain, he leaves all scattered thoughts behind as he delivers himself to the battlefield. A hasty turn leads him to evade another attack and to stand in front of the long bone left for him on the ground. A fourth blow from the right, the bone in his hand and Alfonso manages to block Pedro’s attack, although the force of the impact sends him back to the ground. A supreme effort, propelled by furious breathing, leads Alfonso to stick his eyes to his opponent’s movements. He feels light and prepared, jumps up, grabs the bone, and launches his attack before Pedro can react. The first attack doesn’t have enough energy to hurt, after all, Pedro’s body is more robust than Alfonso’s. However, the clash of forces has an unexpected consequence; now Pedro feels that he has won the battle. This leads him to ram Alfonso with the full weight of his body, confident, throwing him back to the ground, one step forward and Pedro raises the bone in the air with the intention of hitting Alfonso directly in the head to end the fight. The bone falls hard into the sand, however, Alfonso manages to move quickly to kick Pedro’s right knee hard, making him fall to the ground. Pedro rolls around on the floor and is in pain. An agile jump leads Alfonso to get up once more, in front of him, the wounded prey waits. Pedro crawls onto the ground and backs away without letting go of the bone still firm in his hands. Alfonso notices this, he knows that Pedro has not given up, and he is probably more dangerous now than before.
- What am I doing? Are we really dueling each other to death?
Hesitation leads Alfonso to stop, he’s confused, and observes the expectant public, all ecstatic in the candor of battle and the promise of blood to be fulfilled. Enough time for Pedro to swing the bone in his hands with force and succeed in throwing it into the air, impacting Alfonso in the middle of the face. Blood gushes profusely from the wound, and Alfonso falls to the floor with a lost gaze, hitting the ground he loses consciousness. When he wakes up, Pedro is almost completely up. Blood that flows from Alfonso’s forehead goes into his eye sockets, clouding his vision, the taste of rust in his mouth makes him feel that he has also broken a lip, or perhaps he is swallowing the same blood that prevents him from seeing. Pedro takes advantage of the moment to pick up the bone again. He staggers but manages to do so, hobbling over to Alfonso, squeezing the bone in his hand, and breathing a sigh of relief.
- I’m sorry kid, I owe it to my brother.
Exhale… the air escapes from Alfonso’s chest and gets lost in the cold of the night, an agonizing moment. The spectators now shout in excitement, expectant of the outcome, the climax is approaching. Alfonso prepares to die, he doesn’t feel defeated or lost, just tired. He wonders about the causes of this tragedy, he does not know, and yet, once again, his hands seem to almost touch the fogged-up window, to wake up Amelia.
- I would have liked to get to know her, I guess.
The last wish.
- Why do you want to see her? – the voice returns.
- I don’t know… I just know that I want to see her.
Alfonso responds without even trying to hide the confusion that has accompanied him all his life.
- You know what you have to do – the voice ends.
Hope, Alfonso’s eyes open wide, his muscles tense, and new strength leads him to turn quickly, to avoid the death blow that Pedro throws at him. The bone hits the ground and draws a crater in the sand. Alfonso stands up nimbly and his arms swing hard, an almost reflex movement at a speed that surprises the crowd, surprises the stars themselves and destiny awakes as the bone almost burns the air and a low whistle is heard, fast and fleeting.
- Pedro’s teeth fly through the air and blood accompanies them on their journey into the void.
The bone in Alfonso’s hands shatters, it breaks in two when it impacts the skull of his adversary. One blow is enough to knock him down, Alfonso releases it and his body loses all strength, almost falls to the ground again, but manages to stay on his feet. Lying in the sand, Pedro’s body shakes reflexively for minutes before coming to a complete stop, the battle is over.
The spectators retire quietly, a few words are heard as they leave the circle of stones. Alfonso stands in the middle of it, his chest swells strongly with each breath, his eyes completely dilated do not lose any movement around him, it takes a while for him to return to a more normal state. The withdrawal of the people reveals the rectangular object, on which, sitting on top, sits the woman with long black hair. The object is a mirror as clear as crystal water. By the angle at which it is placed, it reflects the brightness of the stars, now visible as the light of the torches fades. As he approaches, Alfonso manages to see his bloody face reflected on the surface of the mirror and he is amazed at the clarity by which he can see himself. The woman smiles and then directs others to bring the body of the newly deceased closer to her. Two men take what’s left of Pedro and drag him close to a basket placed just below the mirror. The dark-haired woman gives some instructions, and the men place Pedro’s head in the basket, and the rest of the body in the sand. One of the men takes a bone, and approaches the mirror, the woman screams and the bone falls hard, crushing Pedro’s skull. Again and again, the blows rumble on the ground, Alfonso stares silently, the situation shakes him, but he feels he no longer has the strength to respond in any way to this increasing trauma.
- I can only hope for some oblivion at this point.
Blood and pieces of skull are scattered on the surface of the mirror. The woman comes down from the frame and spreads the blood with her hands until she completely covers the surface of the crystal. Then, she raises her arms to the sky and takes something, an invisible cloth that joins her to the stars. She uses it to cover Alfonso, circulating around him, whispering words that cannot be heard. The woman returns to one side of the mirror and puts the other end of the cloth near the bloody surface, something grabs it from the other side, tighten it and Alfonso’s body is propelled forward, into the blood, into the darkness, and the light of the stars reflected in the mirror. Alfonso tries to back up but his feet slip into the sand.
- Now you can see, can you?
Alfonso closes his eyes, and lightning strikes the frame of the mirror, while Alfonso gets cut by the glass passing through with his whole body into the void and the stars break and, from the opening, an intense light receives him, so strong and warm that the outline of his body disappears, vanishes. And for billions of years there is only calm, infinite stillness, full of undecipherable happiness, nourished by a complete existence. However, with the passage of time a memory emerges, like a stain on the surface of all creation, an opening through which energies escape and sprout, altering the consistency of the luminous surface, the intensity recedes and an explosion leads the whole to separate through the empty space that covers it. Alfonso becomes himself again, he recognizes himself as a finite person, as legs, as arms, as his hands that try to hold on to the light that escapes like sand between his fingers. Entire galaxies struggle to stay together, but the repulsion is much too strong, tears are lost in the movement, farewells that last for eons, like raindrops drawing the wake of birth, preparing to move forward, they go deeper, more into the depths. Suns burn and give life to an infinite amount of planets, and they pass by Alfonso’s side, light up with force, and turn without stopping, until losing everything, until disappearing and, with them, thousands of lives are lost once more. Until the whole horizon of events bids farewell to the whole light and embraces a dark mantle. The void is the only thing left and Alfonso keeps himself, remembers himself, and clings to his memories, to the remains of him, and coldness freezes his lungs, his breath stops, and a new calm begins. Millions of years pass again.
– When will it end?
The voice returns to Alfonso’s frozen mind, wakes him up and his heart beats once more.
- Come back.
Time, previously stopped, now goes backwards, light and blinking, shy on the horizon line, it gains strength and the shine returns, suns burn strongly and galaxies meet again. Alfonso is dragged once more to the center of the whole truth, to the uncontainable, undeniable, imperishable light that embraces him and drives him down, the falling lasts as long as the space between the stars. Alfonso lets himself go, lets out a cry from the entrails to leave aside the nervousness, the excitement, to be reborn. And when the light collapses, his eyes can barely stand the morning glow, but he adapts quickly, looking at the sign in front of him, it’s the name of a gas station and the fuel price list. A sense of familiarity seizes him as the wind moves the sand scattered on the concrete, reminding him that he has already been in this place, but. has he been here?