Eternal dream (Final)

IX

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.

Dry lips…

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.

X

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.

Amelia.

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.

XII

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.

Eternal Dream (Part III)

V

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.

VI

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.

  • Gustavo!

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.