An unexpected invitation leads to confusion and unwanted memories.
Dark Clouds of Memory
The delicate quiet was shattered by the haunting howl of some desolate beast. Bolting upright, Khaya staggered out of his tent, grabbing a pole as dizziness overtook him. The lonely wail, seemingly coming from all directions and none, rebounded off the dark sky across the flat sparsity of the desert. Then stopped. Not knowing what to do, Khaya went back to bed, attempting to sleep despite the conflicting thoughts that were bouncing around his head. Tomorrow, phantoms would be revealed.
Like an angry furnace, the sun was already suffocating as it sucked up the air, turning the horizon into a shimmering melange of colours as Khaya readied himself. He took one last look at the baffling invitation, grasping it tightly as sudden flurry of wind sought to steal it away. The words blurring together as it flapped around. The request to meet in such an unusual location had compelled him to attend despite his fear and apprehension of what he would find. Despite his fear of what would find him.
After walking a few miles an array of rocks and small boulders lay scattered across the ground as if tossed aside by the hand of some lazy giant. Khaya cautiously strode through them, turning left, right and left again. Slithering his way through like a sidewinder.
The sun was now at its highest and strongest, mercilessly draining the life out of Khaya. Sweat running down his back in random rivulets. Air so thick he could choke on it; sun so glaring it could strip his sight. The only other life he could see in this inert environment was a solitary eagle, meandering back and forth across the bare blue sky.
Long dark shadows provided an intermittent reprieve from the vindictive rays. Aware of his presence the rocks had grown taller, wider and more imposing. Ancient and unmoving guardians of this land, silently watching for insolent interlopers. These sentinels grew closer and taller with every step Khaya made, obscuring the sky, obscuring the way forward in shade, becoming indistinct and unrecognisable, turning him round and round, into dead ends and blind alleys, leaving him dizzy and lost, panicked and breathless.
Like a hunted and wounded animal, Khaya fell to his knees, defeated. His breathing ragged; his eyes stinging with sweat. In this quiet moment of resignation, Khayas pounding ears caught...something. Something fuzzy that peaked, then receded like wave on a beach. Khaya, his strength renewed, quickly started following the noisey beacon. He staggered through the riot of rocks and boulders, bouncing off them like the sound he was chasing. Louder and louder the distorted noise became, faster and faster Khaya chased it. Then, with complete suddenness, he burst out of the monolithic maze into a wide open oasis.
Khaya was like a child as he splashed around in the clear, cool pool. The sating spring was surrounded by several short trees, blocking the searing sunlight with long lazy leaves. Large birds effortlessly gliding above on radiant feathers. The sand around was like a lush carpet, soft and welcoming to tired feet. Khaya had immediately immersed himself into the crystal clear water. Rocks, noise and reasons, forgotten. He now became aware of the sound again, turning his damp head towards it as a distant memory revealed exactly what it was.
Sat under a thick bush was a banged up, battered old portable stereo. The cassette slowly turning as it boomed out the rich voice of the man in black, Johnny Cash. It was the music that Khaya had listened to a thousand times in his youth as the gang often played it in the van. Next to the stereo was a transparent plastic bag containing an envelope with his name on. Impatiently, he ripped the bag open; tore out the contents. Khaya was left holding an old photograph of him and four other youthful faces. The gang.
It had been taken about a week before the debacle in Detroit, before that life had ended. Three small red crosses were savagely slashed across three of the grinning faces. Only Khaya and the long forgotten betrayed were untouched. Just two. On the back of the photo, like deep red scars, was written, 'REMEMBER ME?'
Khaya shivered as a dark cloud obscured the sun, stealing away its warmth. Looking furtively around he noticed an old farmhouse in the distance. He Jumped as the birds shrieked, agitated and angry, flapping as one large, vague shape into the dimming sky. The cooling air now felt charged, prickling his skin. The wind picked up, becoming tugging talons. He took one last look at the fearful photo, tossed it awkwardly aside, then quickly stomped away. There was a storm coming.