I had a dream last night I was looking at the far side of the plain There was a tree with a strange shape. Uncomfortable. A path described in the short grass led to the other side of the horizon. Towards the smoke, the flashes Time kept moving forward and didn’t let me breathe. Someone was screaming, crying I didn’t want to look I had to keep walking, I knew But my feet were heavy My heart crushed The shadow upright in the sky wanted to touch the clouds Black arms, columns of burnt wings And the end of all things It was a dream, I know Did I live it anyway? Will I ever reach that plain? What will I do then? Crying won’t solve it Running won’t fix it And my light will fade.
Hold me Don’t let go of me I don’t want to go, please… One more day One more minute One second Before the end of everything Of the stars Of the galaxies Of memories Until the surface of all things change And nothing can be recognized Will I ever see you again? Once I let go of your hand Because I can’t ask you to stay To go away I can’t do anything And it kills me.
Alfonso stops by the door of the quickstop, where he finds the reflection of his face on the glass of the door, his long, white, gray hair, and his long, singeing beard.
Who am I?
The question has no answer. The golden, cracked skin, dry lips, characteristics that do not correspond to any glimmer of unity inside the observer.
The sentence reminds him of something he cannot remember, a faceless nostalgia and nameless anguish. He decides to enter the store without answering the question, walks through the aisles full of candy, vibrant colors that fill him with wistfulness. Walking down the aisle at the end, Alfonso finds himself facing the row of refrigerators, he stares at a bottle of mineral water, the shape of the bottle reminds him of something he cannot realize, a diffuse memory that leads him to open the door of the refrigerator and take the bottle in his hands, the cold relaxes him, it leads him to take a deep breath. The woman at the cash register has been looking at him for a while. Alfonso knows this, but he downplays the issue, preferring to open the bottle and take a big sip of water. Refreshing, but he is interrupted by the woman’s voice.
Hey, what are you doing!
Alfonso stops, the woman approaches him, brings a red blanket, one that she had kept for the cold, she uses it to cover the body of the old naked man she has found in the corridor of the refrigerators. Alfonso thanks her, but she has not finished, she asks him to pay for the water before consuming it. Alfonso listens carefully and then puts his hands in his pockets, but he has no pants. The woman gets angry, asks him to leave the store, to take the water away but not to continue to mess the floor with sand, points to Alfonso’s dirty feet, feet with which he has painted a trail of sand everywhere he has stepped. Alfonso walks towards the exit, passes by the woman’s side, she backs up when she sees the depth of his eyes, there she finds the glow of the stars. Alfonso is happy to see her, he remembers her from before, although he doesn’t know when, he bids her farewell with a reverence. As he walks through the door of the quickstop, Alfonso sees the next object that catches his eye, an empty gas can, next to the gas pump hose. With eyes full of tears, a smile on his face, and arms raised to the sky in an attempt to embrace the sun, Alfonso celebrates the discovery. He doesn’t know why, he doesn’t remember, but that canister fills his heart with joy, an intense joy that drives him to run to the pump to get the canister and insert the nozzle of the pump inside. Alfonso presses the trigger and the gasoline is poured inside. And just then, the bathroom door, at the side of the quickstop, hits the frame announcing the arrival of a man on the scene. It’s a burly guy wearing a trucker’s cap on his head.
Hey! Hey, you! Are you going to pay for that?
Surprised by the statement, but even more surprised to see the face of the person who is questioning him, Alfonso kicks on the floor with joy, suffering hidden inside him disappears, a miracle without identification leads him to thank the heavens and Pedro, who continues to approach Alfonso and fails to understand anything of what is happening.
Did I miss anything? You’re going to pay, right?
Alfonso panics, grabs the drum with both hands and runs out, releasing the jet, which continues to expel liquid from its interior and spill it on the floor. Alfonso hugs the canister tightly as he escapes from the station, into the road and the desert. Pedro runs in pursuit, but stops at the pump to stop the gasoline pouring onto the ground uncontrollably. The time lost is enough for Alfonso to reach a considerable distance, insurmountable assumes Pedro, in the midst of the embracing heat of noon, so he desists in the pursuit.
Alfonso runs without stopping, he doesn’t give himself time to look back. He doesn’t run because he is being chased, he runs because he knows he still has time, although he doesn’t remember what for. Hours fly on the impulse, until his legs ask for a break, the sun lying down on the horizon, and the heat has dropped considerably. His guts are rumbling. When was the last time he ate? A blind confidence leads him to go into the dunes of the desert and to wait in silence. And then, between the lines described in the sand, a circular movement, like a whip drawing outlines on the ground, reveals the movement of a snake emerging from the depths. Alfonso observes it and without even thinking about it, he throws himself towards it, hunger drives him, instinct drives him, love for the imperishable time drives him to pursue it a long way, leaving the drum behind, because what will become of the can without someone to carry it? Alfonso manages to find the snake, grabs it by the tail, and strongly whips it against the ground until life escapes from it. When the killing is over, Alfonso says goodbye to the snake, thanks the universe for providing it, takes off his red cloak and places it on the ground, and deposits the snake’s body there. A furtive look at the canister, arranged on the side of the road, reveals that the object in question is not in its position; a young man has taken it and is carrying it. Alfonso hurries to hunt down the intruder, catches him and throws himself at him, managing to knock him down without much difficulty. The canister returns to his hands and Alfonso stays looking at the young man for a while. For his part, the young man spends the afternoon begging Alfonso to lend him the gasoline he needs to rescue a woman stranded in the middle of the desert. Words that unleash a series of diffuse, unconnected, but strangely familiar memories in Alfonso. One specific word echoes in his memory.
Alfonso remembers meeting someone with that name, a powerful feeling that brings him back to the desert sands, that ties him to the destination of the road, to the gasoline can and to the long journey he has undertaken. But Alfonso prefers not to say anything, he is not sure of these memories, of the story that they link, and for sure that saying things without being sure is a bad idea, he thinks to himself. Night falls on Alfonso and on the young man, a fire is lit in the dark, the flames dance to the rhythm of the night winds. Millions of thousands of years still unprocessed in his mind, Alfonso does not manage to stay long in the present time. Even so, he makes the greatest effort to pay attention to the words of the young man, who interrogates him with questions whose answer he does not possess. Questions about origins, about destinies, but Alfonso does not manage to position himself in the arrow of time, the situation seems to him an echo of something that had already happened, even without remembering what comes after or what came before this that is now happening. Only one sentence manages to thread, there is a woman he wants to find, he has lost her in the avatars of time, will it be enough to shut him up? Alfonso chooses not to say more, loses interest in the conversation and soon falls into a deep sleep.
The space is occupied, how to enter?
Among the veils of dreams, a car appears in the middle of the road, a woman opens up whole, her skin falls on the passenger seat, a flower emerges, a thorny rose, the stems grow and the thorns occupy the entire interior space of the vehicle.
Alfonso opens his eyes in fear, the young man takes the canister, tries to snatch it from his hands, forces him to stand up and fight, but why fight?
Better to let go.
Alfonso reflects and the forces he leaves aside, his body now moves thanks to the strength of the young man, the thrust pushes him towards the flames with the canister held in his arms. The touch of the fire and the explosion, as intense as sunlight, envelops him in flames. Alfonso bears the pain in silence, lets himself be burned, embraces the flames like old friends who come to guide him, angels who come down from the sky to illuminate the path. The fire is extinguished after a while, Alfonso’s body stiff, his eyes lost in the blink of the stars that receive him once more and beyond, beyond the most extensive and darkest depth, he knows that everything will start again.
The first rays of the sun timidly illuminate the contour of the desert and tickle Alfonso’s charred fingers. He agonizes, it is difficult for him to breathe, every breath burns him inside, every exhalation as if it were a nail in his chest. He remains still, almost does not feel anything, does not feel the movement of the sand around him, does not feel those beings that return to the surface hungry, in search of food, and that find him lying down, helpless. There will be two, then three, and soon more than twenty snakes sliding through the sand toward the burnt body. The feast begins. Teeth like fine needles tearing the flesh until they are satiated. The snakes finish eating the flesh and return to the sand. Later, a couple of vultures circles the sky over the charred body, taking their time before descending. A peck and another piece of meat is separated from the bone. The vultures devour every muscle with surgical precision, including the eyes and guts. Then they return to the skies and get lost on the horizon. After a while, a family of beetles makes its way through the sand, reaches the immobile body and takes its share. The days pass and only bones remain.
XI And Alfonso? Where is he? Alfonso is in the snakes that roam the desert, he is in the vultures that sail the skies, he is in the beetles that bury themselves in the earth. But Alfonso wants to free himself, the desire to return to that place that he hardly remembers anymore, that place that keeps calling him, persists like the light of the stars. With great effort he manages to free himself from the flesh that imprisons him, helped by the fact that it almost disintegrates in the stomach of the beings that fed on him. One more effort and his soul separates entirely from the material, then he falls, falls as he has fallen before, as the stars collapse and separate in spite of all efforts to endure. But Alfonso does not want to be part of the history of the universe; his desire is to return to his memories, to retain them. And every time the galaxies collapse and everything begins again, he returns, countless times and under a thousand forms. At the beginning it is difficult for him, he can only be geometrical figures, he is a triangle embedded in a grain of sand, he is a cube, traveling in a beam of light, between the reflections of the dunes and the sun. A car passes by the road, a thundering music throws waves through the air, changing the nature of all things, even of himself and now Alfonso is part of a song, a specific strophe “stay with her”, “stay with her” is repeated like a mantra throughout the song and someone listens, but the sound waves last as long as a blink of an eye and that is not enough for Alfonso. Again at the end of the universe and back again. This time as a drop of rain that falls in a spring at the beginning of his life and then is taken, encapsulated in a bottle of water. The same drop that slips gracefully through a woman’s lips and manages to calm her nervousness in a tense situation, Alfonso remembers the happiness, but he wants more, he is not satisfied. This time he is a fly that is born on the putrid flesh of a corpse, as soon as his eyes meet the rays of the sun, his adventure through the air begins. He flaps his wings in search of an aroma that he can barely perceive, which is only an illusion at the beginning, but which, with each movement, grows in intensity. After having lost half of his life in the journey, the fly finds the origin of the aroma that drives him forward. The turbulence of the wind prevents him from advancing, it moves him in all directions. But the fly does not let himself be intimidated; he has been a man, has taken a life, has been robbed of his life, has traveled this existence countless times, the wind is not a rival, it is itself in another age. This is how he lets himself go and soon finds himself in the cabin of a car, amazed by the man and the woman who now talk and laugh inside. He approaches the man and, with all his strength, shouts at him not to waste time, that destiny can be cruel in the same way that men are or have been. But the man does not listen; the fly flies through the air once more, and goes around both looking for some solution. He does not find it; tired he stops at the mouth of the bottle, where he recognizes himself in the form of a drop of rain. Distraction prevents him from seeing the woman’s hand until it is too late, life is lost again. Again the end of the universe and the man returns as an animal, a fox that ventures into the desert dunes, that hunts snakes and faces vultures, that fights to stay alive long enough. Until a thundering sound changes the nature of things, “stay with me” is repeated and the fox knows that the time has come. One look is enough to change the life of the man who until then was walking the dark spaces of his own consciousness and then the epiphany, be an idea. The universe collapses and begins again, this time Alfonso is born from the vision of man, a set of synapses, of electrochemical impulses that form the powerful image of the majestic fox in the middle of the desert sands, a sticky idea that later translates into words that travel through the air and enter her ears.
Amelia settles into the seat and closes her eyes, falling into a deep sleep. It is a calm dream, like the belly of a whale, warm and protective. Through the thick mist of her restful consciousness appears the image of a man walking along the road. It is Alfonso returning with a jerry can of gasoline in his hands. Amelia watches him from the window and smiles, their glances cross and they recognize each other as if only minutes had passed since they last saw each other. Alfonso arrives at the car and tells Amelia that he has found the can lying on the side of the road, which has been a miracle. She stretches to get rid of the laziness and gets out to stretch her legs for a while. Alfonso fills the pond with fuel, stares at Amelia, and can’t help but smile.
Something has ended.
Alfonso forgets everything else and returns to the car, Amelia enters with him.
Shall we go?
Shall we go? Amelia asks cheerfully.
Alfonso nods, turns the key and the engine starts. The car advances towards the horizon, where the desert ends.
The trip takes about eight hours, enough time for Alfonso to get lost countless times in recurring thoughts, memories of days gone by when existence seemed so superfluous, so unnecessary to him. And now the terror that has taken over his body keeps him hoping to continue living, despite all the dangers that await him, for sure, at the end of this new journey through the desert. A journey that ends abruptly, his eyes are opened and night falls on him, flames in torches intermittently illuminate the space between him and Peter, on the other side of the circle, drawn with stones, which separates the space before them and the crowd of people who look anxiously at the sides of the improvised quadrilateral. Women, old people and children wait for the beginning of the festivities raising their voices to the stars, energetic songs in the same indecipherable language as before. A man walks among the crowd, they open the way for him, this attitude of the audience makes Alfonso think that this man has to be special among them. He brings with him two long bones, human femurs, Alfonso supposes. The truth is that, having witnessed the dismemberment of Pedro’s brother before, the situation does not impact him greatly. The man buries a bone in the sand, near Alfonso, another near Pedro. Then, the man approaches the center of the circle and introduces himself to the rest of the people, bows and addresses Alfonso and Pedro in perfect Spanish, points out clear and simple rules for the festival, both have to fight, only one will survive, the battle is not over until one of them falls dead.
Tell me, what do you desire?
A question is born in Alfonso’s mind, words that the wind does not bring with it and that no person has pronounced.
Do you want to see it?
The voice returns, a tingling leads Alfonso to raise his gaze, above Pedro, further back from the people who are shouting effusively behind him. 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 is sitting on a structure that Alfonso is unable to decipher. Her feline eyes are fixed on Alfonso. She blinks…
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 was all an illusion, it is all he can wish for. The woman smiles and a warm breeze lifts the ashes from the torch to the stars. Time rewinds, the sun rides back 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 a choice.
Standing outside the car, Alfonso prepares to leave in search for help, Amelia sleeps inside. Alfonso wants to turn around, back up, 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 them.
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 gets up in a hurry, takes the long bone, buried in the sand, with his hands and throws himself against Alfonso. Savage, liberated, he has surely been offered a similar bargain. Alfonso leaves his thoughts aside and turns 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 more force and attacks for the second time, Alfonso does not manage to avoid completely the blow, ends up receiving it in the left arm, falls flat on the floor. Breathing heavily, the pain in his arm prevents him from moving or thinking clearly, he has lost sight of Pedro, 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, the feet hurt, 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. Pedro balances the bone in his hands, feels victorious, apologizes, remembers his brother, there is a way to bring him back to life.
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, forgotten about the pain, he leaves all his thoughts behind and surrenders to the battle. A hasty turn leads him to evade another attack by Peter and to stand in front of the bone 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 his furious breathing, leads him to keep his eyes on his opponent’s movements. Alfonso feels light, 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 Peter’s right knee hard, making him fall to the ground. Pedro rolls around on the floor screaming in pain. An agile jump leads Alfonso to get up once more, in front of him, a wounded prey waits. Pedro crawls on the ground, backs away without letting go of the bone, still firm in his hands. Alfonso notices this, he knows that Pedro has not given up, he is probably more dangerous now than before.
But, what am I doing? Are we really dueling each other to death?
The hesitation leads Alfonso to stop, confused, observes the expectant public, all ecstatic in the candor of the battle and the promise of blood. 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. The blood gushes profusely from the wound, Alfonso falls to the floor with a lost look, when hitting the ground he loses consciousness. When he wakes up, Pedro is almost completely up. The blood that flows from his forehead goes into his eye sockets, clouding his vision, the taste of rust that he feels 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. He doesn’t know and 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, breathing a sigh of relief.
I’m sorry kid, I owe it to my brother.
Exhale… the air escapes from Alfonso’s chest and is lost in the cold of the night. 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, the beauty who sleeps inside the car lost in the middle of the desert.
I would have liked to see her again.
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, new strength leads him to turn quickly, to avoid the death blow that Pedro throws without hesitation. 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 Alfonso himself. The bone almost burns the air and a low whistle is heard, fast and fleeting. Peter’s teeth fly, blood accompanies them on their journey into the void. The bone in Alfonso’s hands is shattered, it breaks in two when it impacts the skull of his adversary. One blow is enough to knock him down, Alfonso releases the bone 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, few words are heard as they leave the circle of stones. Alfonso stands in the middle of the place, 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 normal. The withdrawal of the people reveals the rectangular object, on which, sitting on top, is the woman with long black hair. The object is a mirror as clear as crystal waters. By the angle at which it is placed, it reflects the brightness of the stars, now more visible after the torches are extinguished. As he approaches, Alfonso manages to see his bloody face reflected on the surface of the mirror and is amazed at the clarity with which he can see himself. The woman on the mirror smiles, then directs others to bring the body of the newly deceased closer to her. Two men take Pedro and drag him to a basket placed just below the mirror. The dark-haired woman gives some instructions, the men place Pedro’s head in the basket, the rest of the body in the sand. One of the men takes a bone, 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. Blood and pieces of the skull are scattered on the surface of the mirror, others fall into the sand and are lost from sight. The woman comes down from the frame of the mirror and spreads the blood with her hands, until she completely covers the surface of the mirror. Then, she raises her arms to the sky, takes something, an invisible rope that joins her to the stars. She occupies the rope to tie Alfonso, circulating around him, whispering words that cannot be heard. The woman returns to one side of the mirror and throws the other end of the rope into the reflection, with movements that remind Alfonso of the nonsense of mimes in the city square. But the mockery fades as Alfonso feels the rope tighten and his body is propelled forward, into the blood, into the darkness and the light of the stars reflected in the mirror. Alfonso cannot move his arms, he is really tied to a rope that he cannot see. In vain he tries to back up, his feet are buried in the sand, but he cannot help sliding.
Now you can see her, can you? – the voice gets into Alfonso’s mind.
Yes, I do, I can!
Don’t ever forget, remember!
Alfonso makes a decision and closes his eyes, another battle is over for him, he will no longer fight the force that drives him forward. A lightning strike hits the frame of the mirror, while Alfonso cuts through the glass with his whole body and shreds it completely. The void and the stars break and, from the openings, an intense light receives him, so strong and warm that the outline of his body disappears, vanishes, is extinguished. 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 his self as a finite person, as legs, as arms, as his hands that try to hold on to the lights that escape like sand between his fingers. Entire galaxies struggle to stay together, but the repulsion is very 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 the planets, pass by Alfonso’s side, light up with force and turn without stop, 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 the dark mantle. The void is the only thing left and Alfonso keeps himself, remembers himself, clings to his memories, to what remains of him, the cold 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.
Time, previously stopped, now goes backwards, light and blinking, shy on the horizon line, with time it gains strength and light 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, a fall 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, the wind moves the sand scattered on the concrete, reminding him that he has already been there, but has he been there?
The impression awakens Alfonso, what was that? A dream? The place is unfamiliar to him, the shelves with candy, the flickering light in the damp sky and the vibrant sound of the refrigerators on the side, the smell of gasoline in the air gives him a more or less convincing clue as to where he is and who has rescued him during the night. The bell rings with the opening of the door and a woman enters the store. Alfonso gets up to sit on the old red sofa, with some bites in the corners that reveal the boards that shape it. The woman introduces herself as Paloma, informs him that thanks to the big explosion in the middle of the night they have been able to find him in the desert, that he has been lucky because of that. Exalted, Alfonso asks about the old man, Paloma says she didn’t see anyone else, because the place was very dark and repeats that he was lucky they even found him. She remembers meeting an old stranger some time ago, perhaps it was the same person. But Alfonso is not satisfied with the answer, he insists on the old man, explaining that he may be seriously injured, that they need to go and look for him immediately. A second voice interrupts him and asks.
How long do you think it’s been since we found you?
It is a man with a grey beard and a trucker’s hat, who presents himself as Pedro, a strong man but beaten by the passage of time. Alfonso has no way of answering the question correctly, he wants to say “a few hours” but the heaviness in his head tells him otherwise.
You have been sleeping for a whole month.
Pedro replies and Alfonso gets up completely from the sofa.
What happened to Amelia?
Unanswered question, the woman approaches and tries to reassure him, explaining that no one else has been found in the desert, which is a very vast place and sometimes people simply disappear. Confused, Alfonso cannot believe the words he has just heard. How is it possible that they have not been able to find their car?
This desert is special.
Pedro answers once again, in that cryptic way that already begins to irritate Alfonso.
The sands rise up and sometimes form figures that seem real, but after a while the wind blows them away and they don’t exist anymore.
Words that confuse Alfonso even more.
Are you saying that I hallucinated everything? That Amelia doesn’t exist? And the old man?
Pedro has no answers. The ground and the sky revolve around Alfonso, confusion and dizziness lead him to run towards the exit door. The sound of the small bell on the door resonates and merges with the arches that Alfonso has outside the quickstop, the little he has in his stomach is expelled through his mouth and ends up spilled on the floor, where the sand, which moves in the wind, forms circular shapes. Alfonso stares at the movement, in his mind, the idea of illusion begins to gain strength. At least it takes away his responsibility for the lives of two people. But is he really considering believing that it was all an illusion? Peter walks out the door and approaches Alfonso, offering him a napkin to wipe his mouth. Alfonso receives the napkin and wipes himself without getting up.
You’ll be fine, I assure you.
I’ll be fine? We are talking about the lives of two people.
Alfonso responds without hiding his irritation.
Two people who may be an illusion.
Pedro comes back to the charge with his theory of illusions in the sand.
I understand you, believe me. Something similar happened to me, I also lost a person.
Alfonso wakes up half relieved that someone else shares the odyssey. Amelia’s face remains in his memory, impossible to believe that it was all just a dream.
But don’t worry, there is still something we can do.
What do you mean?
Well, I saved your life and you can now help me with something that will benefit us both.
Alfonso still can’t believe they couldn’t find Amelia, what about her car? What happened to it? Pedro indicates that details have never helped anyone change the reality of things, but that Alfonso does not need to despair, as there is still hope.
It is about the inhabitants of the desert, it is a tribe that, according to the legend, has a special connection with the creative principles of this universe, they know about the desert and illusions, they can help both.
Peter explains the whole mess and then goes off to tell the sad story about the disappearance of his younger brother, also “swallowed up or imagined” by the desert. Has he hallucinated him? He doesn’t know, as time goes by he can’t even remember if he really had a brother all his life. But what he keeps in his heart is the memory and affection for him, and that is what drives him to keep looking. And Alfonso listens to Pedro’s words with disbelief, the reality now seems so different to him than it was when he started the journey that now has him completely confused outside a gas station, who knows where.
What do you say?
Peter asks once again and Alfonso accepts, hoping to find, at some point on the confusing path that seems to hover before his feet, some answer that makes sense.
Early the next day, Alfonso and Pedro go into the desert, both of them cross the sand in silence, walking until they find themselves completely surrounded by golden mounds that reflect intense sun rays, indistinguishable from each other. The walk continues and Alfonso returns to that feeling of fullness that reminds him of the moment when he decided to start walking on the road, the starting point of his current odyssey. The first steps he took, moving away from the car and the woman who, while asleep, he hopes, he will still be able to see again, no matter how illusory it seems to return to her and with it still keeping the hope that she is still alive. Heavy steps in the sand, the tiredness reaches him faster this time. Pedro advances in a hurry, sure of himself, of the path, which for Alfonso is as diffuse as the sand itself. And then it occurs, first a light blow that raises a soft breeze that moves the surface of the desert, then it grows as a breath that becomes more and more agitated, until raising a whole wall of sand that moves quickly and wraps Pedro and Alfonso, making impossible to distinguish heaven from earth.
Is it all sand?
Alfonso tries to follow in Pedro’s footsteps, but the wall of sand that stands between them barely allows him to distinguish it from everything else.
Alfonso, let’s keep going!
Forward, where to? Alfonso doesn’t know. Thunder rumbles on the ground around them both, frightening the raised sands and taking over the sides of all horizons, invisible among so much sand. Alfonso shouts to Pedro, asks him about the origin of the thunder, does it matter? Pedro turns and smiles.
We are close!
Close to what? Alfonso has lost all confidence in the journey. A new roar is now revealed as a high-pitched scream and, a little further on, a figure stands on the highest dune on the nearby horizon, almost indistinguishable among so much sand. As they approach, both can see that it is a naked man, with his arms raised and his face angry, his words, incomprehensible to Alfonso, seem to curse the desert. The sands follow his movement, to the left, to the right, his cries provoke the wrath of the winds. Pedro indicates to Alfonso that the guy standing on the dune is his younger brother, that it is time to capture him, to stop him before the desert prevents them from doing so. Alfonso follows Pedro to the dune, but the brother sees them approaching and starts running, shouting louder, raising new storms that make it impossible to follow his trail. Pedro shouts his brother’s name over and over again.
Alfonso orientates himself by following the sound of Peter’s voice, his eyes can no longer see anything but sand fluttering aggressively between the columns of wind that push him in all directions. Then, a sharp sound and an aggressive blow pass furiously through Alfonso’s left side, grazing his bare ear. A fast line that forms a tube between the sands, an opening that points the way of the object, embedded with violence, in the center of the back of Gustavo, brother of Pedro, who falls dead in the middle of the desert storm. Pedro reaches his brother’s body a few seconds later, too late. He takes him in his arms and sobs, trying, without success, to separate him from the arrow that has taken his life. Alfonso spins around tracking the direction of the arrow, his eyes set on a group of individuals standing about fifty meters away. People who look at him with inexpressive faces and naked bodies, except for the colors they wear on their skin, red some, blue others.
They are the people of the desert.
Pedro points to Alfonso and urges him to kneel in silence. By the expression on the man’s face, Alfonso understands that both are in extreme danger. Fear leads him to stutter some incoherent answer. Pedro falls to his knees, the tears that flow from his eyes are lost in the sand, it is his brother’s turn to mourn in silence. Alfonso follows him, trembling, manages to kneel down and lowers his head. A group of naked men surround Alfonso and Pedro, and between them they talk in a language that Alfonso cannot understand. One of them takes Alfonso by the hair and lifts him up to inspect him. Alfonso avoids looking at him in the eyes, and manages to count five of them in a quick glance to the sides. The men tie Alfonso and Pedro’s hands and feet, while another one approaches Gustavo’s body and, wielding a knife carved in stone, starts slicing him into several pieces. The blood flowing from Gustavo’s body stains the crimson red sands, the men wash the body with the blood of the dead man, looking up, they sing until the violence of the wind stops. The road clears, the sky appears again. Alfonso, obsessed with the events, cannot move his muscles, which are numb, and assumes with enough reasons that any suspicious movement could end up in his death. The men cover Alfonso’s and Pedro’s eyes with cloths cut from Gustavo’s torn skin, then leave for their village, dragging the prisoners through the boiling sand of the afternoon, both tied to ropes that two of them carry on their backs.
The hours pass and Alfonso is left alone with the desert landscape and his thoughts. Lying down on the side of the car, he smokes one cigarette after another waiting for the announced rescue that still does not materialize. The sun is lost in the horizon, the flame of the lighter burns and lights the tip of the fourth cigarette, Alfonso takes a big puff and exhales the smoke into the wind in an attempt to stay calm. Looking inside the vehicle, Amelia continues to sleep. Then he looks to both sides of the road and manages only to measure the enormous space that separates him from civilization, a situation that reassures him. In a few words, Alfonso does not want to return to the everyday life he has built, he feels trapped in it, squeezed to the last drop of novelty that he could find in the same streets he has walked all his life, in the same living spaces, in the same people with whom he has shared his life. Put in this way, is it so bad to have been stranded in the middle of the road next to the only woman in his life for whom he has felt a true connection? Night finally falls on the desert and the cold forces Alfonso to return to the interior of the car. Amelia continues to sleep, surely she was very tired, after walking who knows for how long through the desert. Alfonso settles into his seat and closes his eyes. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, but he succeeds.
The next day, Alfonso wakes up with a sore neck, hanging from his seat for much of the night. He thinks he should have worn a sweatshirt as a pillow, but he has not wanted to copy Amelia. He prefers to open the door and stretch out, the morning wind receiving him fresh, enough to not make such a fuss about the fact that the people from the gas station haven’t shown up yet. Alfonso hoped they would show up during the night. Nothing to do and Amelia still sleeping in the co-pilot’s seat, will she have woken up? No, she is still in the same position she was sleeping the night before. At midday, Alfonso has made some laps around the car, he has walked to the limit of the road and the desert, he has taken the sand in his hands, it has slipped away completely, he has remembered the fox that influenced him the day before. And Amelia, continues sleeping in the same position. Alfonso despairs; at least eighteen hours have passed since she fell asleep. Has something happened to her? He doesn’t know and takes a long time before he dares to check. It occurs to him to move her from her position to try to wake her up. Perhaps she will be angry, but at least he will know that she is okay. He does it, he moves her from one side to another with delicacy, nothing. Then with strength, back and forth, he says her name, shouts her name and nothing, she does not open her eyes. Fear takes hold of Alfonso. Convinced that something bad is happening, he takes the bottle and pours what is left of the water over Amelia’s face, but she does not wake up. Without water and with his companion unconscious, Alfonso nervously meditates on the situation, which takes a dark turn when Alfonso notices that the phone has lost all of its battery life. Unable to ask for help, all lines of thought lead him to the same conclusion, the only solution is to venture into the desert in search of help. After more than a day of waiting, the arrival of external help seems to him to be an illusory idea. To remain waiting could mean not only his own death due to lack of water, but also the death of Amelia. A lot of questions impossible to answer keep him sitting in front of the wheel for a long time, it occurs to him to hit the handle to get even for the present situation. Already with sore arms, he decides to open the door to go out and start walking, and the desert receives him imposing and eternal.
One step after another, Alfonso advances through the empty road. His mind clings to the tireless gaze of the fox in the middle of the desert dunes, to the adventures of Amelia, who walked for so many hours in the desert. Can he do it too? He supposes that he has no other option, to walk until he finds help or perhaps to faint from the heat. Anyway, the situation amuses him, he feels alive, honest, whole, with a valid mission, with a different objective than the monotonous speech of simply staying alive. The sun crosses the horizon and in its movement it loses the incandescent pale tone that does not give truce, painting now the land of orange tones, then reddish, losing with it part of its intensity and making the trip more bearable. At sunset, Alfonso loses some of his initial impulse, it’s the tired legs, the feverish forehead, the dry throat that don’t allow him to move with the same ease. At the same time, he can’t stop walking, he doesn’t want to, he assumes that if he does, he won’t move again for a long time. The night almost falls completely when a new vision leaves him perplexed for the third time. Miracle, a gas can arranged on the berm. A mirage? No, it’s really there. Alfonso walks the stretch that separates him from this marvelous vision and finds the gas can, noting that it is almost completely full, enough to give new life to the car, to take Amelia to a hospital. However, as soon as Alfonso takes the can in his hands, a figure hidden among the dunes and the sand throws itself at it and knocks it down. It is an old man completely naked, with long filthy gray hair and a pronounced beard of the same color. From the ground, Alfonso notices that the eyes of the old man are shining as intensely as the stars that take possession of the sky; his vision leads him to discard assuming a hostile posture. And with those shining eyes, the old man does not stop observing, almost without blinking, Alfonso lying on the sand, while he picks up the gasoline can from the ground. Alfonso gets up from the floor and cleans his clothes with his hands. He tells the old man about the car stranded in the middle of the desert and the woman he had to leave behind to find a solution to the dilemma. However, after the story is over, the old man does not change his attitude; the gas can belongs to him and he has no intention of sharing it. Alfonso reluctantly accepts and sits down by the side of the road to rest, he has really been walking for more than four hours and night has fallen on the desert, to continue advancing in these conditions does not seem a good idea. While Alfonso is lost in thought, the old man gathers some branches and with some gasoline he prepares to light a fire, only to realize that he has no way to make a fire. Alfonso then approaches and lights the branches with the lighter, an object that causes the old man a lot of curiosity. The flames grow with the wind and the fire takes shape quickly. Alfonso and the old man sit by the fire and stare silently, both with the same lost gaze between the reddish crests and the small incandescent sparks that escape from the interior of the fire. Alfonso has not forgotten the gas can, he still has some hope of taking it away from the old man. He surprises himself by these Machiavellian thoughts, assuming they come from the desperate circumstances in which he finds himself. He decides to inquire about the old man’s motives, asks him what he is doing in the desert in the middle of the night, the old man scratches his chin and stays a while thinking, he seems not to remember what he is doing. After a long time he answers that he is looking for a woman who was lost a long time ago. Alfonso doesn’t know if the old man is pulling his leg, so he decides to ask for more details. The old man says that’s all he knows, that and that for no reason should he let go of the gas can he has with him, as it is necessary to rescue the woman. Alfonso responds, and assumes with insight, that the old man has released it when Alfonso has found it, at the side of the road. The old man goes off laughing for a long time. Irritated, Alfonso prefers to remain silent. Then, the old man gets up and from the side of the sand he takes a red robe, something is wrapped inside. The old man reveals the content hidden inside, it is a dead snake, which he presents to Alfonso, without hiding his pride as a hunter for having achieved it. Alfonso doesn’t hide his disgust for the discovery, the old man grabs the snake by its head, cuts it off with his teeth right there and buries it in a stick, which shows up towards the flames. The old man covers his body with the red robe and soon after, the snake is cooked, he takes it out of the fire and bites a piece, his face draws a wide smile. Could it be that he has not eaten in days? Alfonso wonders as he receives the piece of snake that the old man offers him. Both eat in silence, Alfonso says nothing, but the taste of the snake has seemed less terrible to him than he expected. It occurs to him to tell a joke.
It seems to lack a bit of salt.
The old man can’t understand. Doesn’t he know what salt is? A while later, the flames lose intensity, the old man’s eyes close and soon he falls asleep. Alfonso settles down on the sand to rest, but he cannot sleep. Another time passes, the flames burn agonizingly and Alfonso opens his eyes, in front of him, the can and the old man sleeping, a unique opportunity to get the gasoline and return to Amelia. He rises carefully from the floor and takes furtive, precise steps to avoid excessive noise. He manages to get so close to the old man that he can hear his breathing. Alfonso stretches out his hands to take the can and almost succeeds, but the old man wakes up excited, grabs the can with strength, pushing it towards his belly. Alfonso pulls once more but does not manage to take it away from him. The old man gets up and tries to run away, but Alfonso doesn’t let go and, without wanting to, ends up pushing the old man and the gas can towards the fire. The can falls first and then the old man, Alfonso cannot react, his intention is to help, but the explosion sends him flying through the air, along with a great flame that rises in the air, lighting up the night like the breath of a dragon, the column of fire rises in the middle of the darkness. The cries of the old man, wrapped in flames, keep Alfonso at the limit of consciousness, completely disoriented, he tries to stay awake, until the cries stop and only the flames remain. Confused, Alfonso tries to stand up a couple of times, but he doesn’t succeed, not until other hands pick him up and carry him to the back of a truck, where he is carefully placed. The doors of the truck close, Alfonso hears the voice of two people talking. These people, fuzzy silhouettes in the darkness of the cabin, ask him questions he can’t understand or answer. Tired, he lets himself go and falls completely asleep.
The vaporous lines of the mirages, which meet on the horizon of the road at noon, form Alfonso’s body, which becomes flesh, comes alive and returns to the car in the middle of the desert. Walking he remembers the weight of noon and a bunch of foxes peep out among the dunes and receive him on his return. This fills him with joy, he takes the time to revere each one of them and wish them a prosperous journey. Smiling, he approaches the car and Amelia, soon he will see her again. A sudden impulse leads him to run the last stretch, and yet when he arrives he does not find her. Frightened, he looks out of the window to look at the inside of the car; what he finds there presses his heart and leads him to go back. There she is, but it is not her, but her body as if it were deflated, like her skin and clothes without muscles or skeleton to hold them, wrinkled and piled up on the seat. The vision is like a fabric that folds back but its tones still remember what she was. And then, from the inside, from the darkness that overflows in the tear in the middle of it, a red rose emerges that rises and the stems that accompany it take over the entire interior space of the car, until they break the windows and make Alfonso step back with blood on his hands.