I’m walking through a desert. This journey has a purpose. Sand is finding its way through all the openings in my boots—we’re on parallel quests. Under the weight of the sun I can feel thin sweat on every part of my body. There’s a huge bird moving through the sky so far above me. I can’t look at it too much because the sun is so bright but fuck it looks cool, just the shadowy underbelly, a terrible implication.
I take my fuck off big hat from my head as the sun slinks into sunset. It’s pretty—unfathomable colours irradiating the big sky. You don’t get this anywhere else in the world. The temperature slips down quick. I bring my cloak around my shoulders. The bird is not black, it just looks that way from down here. It keeps flying and fair enough, but I have to make camp. Down the cool dunes a while there’s a petrol station. You have to shelter against the winds that sweep the sand wastes in the dark. I make a fire in an empty aisle that might once have sold chips, or Nurofen Zavance. The waxing moon persists in silver on the sands. The wind cries, it coalesces with the screams of the searching bird, one sound that shakes the skeleton of every structure that still exists here. Fair enough.
I walk in the cool of the morning. I walk in the shadows of the ancient. I don’t look too close at what I can see. When I come to a crumbling highway cresting the blown sand. I follow it north. My legs are waking up to the distance we’ve seen, the distance we’re yet to. When I’m sitting in the growing shadow of a burned-out second generation Tarago I start to hear voices. And I should have seen it coming, because a sandstorm can’t torch a car, what’s wrong with me, oh fuck. I leave my food there. What’s wrong with me?
I can evade the bandits, I know, long enough to find somewhere to lie low. But they’re close and night is coming, and I can’t stop again until I’m sure. Pale clouds are gathering above a bluff. I climb it. I trade the bandits for the bird. The feathers on its wings stretch out like fingertips as it floats through slow spirals. I can hear the drum of its wings buffeting the air. If it looks at me, it’ll see me as clear as I can see myself. Fuck. I keep my cloak around me, hope I can pretend well enough not to be human.
There’s a rotting jungle leeward of the bluff, houses filled with the desert. I’ll be okay. If I can make it there before the bandits spot me, before the bird that is watching me decides what to do to me, maybe I will be.
Caroline Rannard is a writer and radio producer. Her work appeared in the 2020: Empty Sky Anthology from the University of Technology, Sydney, and in 2020 she won the Iceland Writers Retreat Writing Competition for her piece “Postmarked Reykjavík.”
image: Amee Nassrene Broumand