Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Horse with No Name


The sun-tanned man belonged in this place. With the sun ready to incinerate every form of life off the earth, his cracked skin seemed ready to peel from his bones. How a person could move across the scorched terrain without a grimace of pain – that was beyond Aaron. He had learned the painful lesson of disrobing his clothes. Hours ago – a lifetime more like it! -- he had braved the desert heat, topless even, for a few hours. Then, his big flabby stomach turned bright red. By then it was too late, he had thrown his shirt and jacket over his head. His shoulders and neck, along with the rest of his rubenesque physique, chafed at the touch of his clothes. He just wanted to lie down and die.

If he did that, though, Charlie would die too.

Aaron’s thought back to a journey that had started as a true adventure. He had never traveled in a desert, and the first things he saw along the way made him doubt the name for this place. The words of a song came back to him now, accompanying his memories.

On the first part of the journey,
I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds, and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings.

It hurt to laugh. But Aaron did anyways, at the thought of Miles and his belabored points: he had done his training as a Marine in this terrain. Miles had said it then as he said now. In Aaron’s mind. The memory of Miles, his finger pointed on the map, the only one they had in their possession. Miles had pointed at the map and the region of the west denoted by Georgian Natchez spies as the Wastelands.

Some wastelands…Wastelands with a big dubya. Whatever. Like writing computer code, the use of one uppercase letter could change the meaning of the software. But that had belonged to another life. Now, Aaron followed the sun-burned man across this valley of death.

A memory grabbed at his attention, and he tried to swat it away, like some phantom fly.

This nightmare had all started with a fly.

The first thing I met, was a fly with a buzz,
And the sky, with no clouds.
The heat was hot, and ground was dry,
But the air was full of sound.

He saw the image of Charlie giving her father one last kiss, as the group began to break up. The fellowship…Captain Neville and Jason had gone to the California Republic -- and Miles had left to stop them. His last instructions to the mission that Charlie and Aaron would begin: locate Xanadu.

-A place where nobody dared to go…the love that we came to know-


The sun tan man was taunting him now, singing the lyrics to some song Aaron barely remembered. The tune made him think of his parents. Disco lovers, Star Wars, 1977 forever.

It made Aaron think of being in the back of a limousine. A young woman on his arm. Champagne, cocaine. Oh, the 1990s…

-Why are you singing that…that song…where did you hear that song?-

The sun tan turned back towards Aaron. His bright red cracked skin ready to burst off the lines on his face. A true devil of the devil lands, the devils highway…to hell.

-You look for Xanadu? Is that not why you’re here, in this great American desert?-

Aaron tried to speak again, his lips felt dry, the lack of moisture nearly sealing them together. If words could walk, they crawled out of his mouth now, falling over themselves even.

-Yes…yes…-

Don’t tell them anything!, he heard Miles say in his mind.

I won't. Why do you even think...?!

All it takes is some girl to put her hands down your pants, and you’re done, that’s why!

Oh yeah. Aaron stopped, but it was too late. He had already told the sun tan man too much. Would it cost him all they fought for? He thought back to Charlie, trapped at the bottom of the cliff. With those Texan – Texican – scouts ready to find her.

He had left her and the other fighters, traveled down the canyon floor, until he arrived here.

Then, he saw the horses.

And the flies. Thousands of them. The carcasses of the horse lay open in the desert air, and beyond that, the flat surface of the valley between the mountain plateaus.

Whoever had killed these horses had spared no one. The riders of the horses were dead too. The flies had buzzed around Aaron, the smell had made him puke in the desert bush, and the insight had burned bright in his mind, calling his name Aaron, Aaron!

How do you know my name, he had said?

A man on a camel approached him between the rows of machine gun riddled corpses of horses and their riders. A lone camel with a single hump like a picture in a book from grade school. A lone man on a camel. He wore rags on his head, the rest of his body wrapped in ribbons of cloth. He looked like a mummy.

The sun tan man cometh. He had approached Aaron in this valley of death.

-I worked for you. Once. Long ago. As an intern. Quickly. You must come with me. If you want to live.-

John Conner, is that you?, Aaron said. John Wayne is that me? Full Metal Jacket. Images and fragments of stories he would never watch again in the Post-Blackout world…those images came to his pop culture obsessed mind. His heat damaged mind.

He was dying out here now. He heard Miles laugh at him in his mind. This was the Wastelands. Uppercase. Command code. The malfunctioning computer in his head attempted to obey the code. His software…

After two days, in the desert sun,
My skin began to turn red.
After three days, in the desert fun,
I was looking at a river bed.
And the story it told, of a river that flowed,
Made me sad to think I was dead.

Goddamnit, Miles!, he wanted to say, but could not. Aaron swatted off the phantom flies, the phantom thoughts, the phantom menace. What a terrible movie. He had been so filled with hope…

Like this journey. Filled with hope. Disaster. Charlie and the fighters, with Aaron in bumbling tow!, had journeyed farther west than anyone. Into the northern territory of Texas. A growing empire? Miles hadn’t cared; Charlie did. She had argued with Miles about the choice of their route to the Wastelands. Through northern Texas. Empire or vassal-state? Not even Captain Niles under the duress of torture had known. But he had not been there to advise them…and Charlie and the fighters, and Aaron – a burglar!, he fancied himself – had traveled west.

One does not simply walk into Mordor. A meme came to Aaron’s dying mind.

One does not simply walk into Texas.

Their party was first attacked in the abandoned trucker stop. A rest stop. When Charlie had realized that gasoline was hidden there, she hurried them – or tried to hurry them! – out of the rest stop.

Aaron had been reading a Metal Up Your Ass! magazine. An interview with AC/DC for the album he had eagerly awaited. It lay on his dead iPhone, downloaded the night of the Blackout. He would never hear AC/DC again.

Texan…Texican?...scouts stumbled upon Charlie and them all, and launched their attack. Don't Mess with Texas. In minutes the abandoned restaurant was riddled with machine gun fire. Machine gun fire….

Many of the fighters went down. Charlie dragged Aaron to the fuel dumps…and lit a fuse.

They escaped as the gas reserves blew up. Just like a movie. Aaron had looked back at the infernal explosion. Charlie didn’t. Cool guys don’t look back at explosions. Aaron looked back at those memories. Like a lonely island now. With the sun tan man.

They had eaten the camel days ago.

-When did you work…for me? Who…-

Aaron dragged himself after the sun tan man. He had peeled off this rags, his skin cracked and red and raw. Naked now, he led Aaron.

Xanadu!

-Who are…you?-

The sun tan man turned around. The devil.

-You hired me as coder. From the Art Institute of America. Back then I could draw the Turtle – not so good at the Pirate. I majored in computer animation. For $12 an hour you hired us. 9 hour shifts. To write your…code…-

Aaron tried to remember. He could barely remember what old AC/DC songs sounded like, let alone the face of every person from 15 years ago.

They had eaten the camel days ago.

After nine days, I let the horse run free,
Cause the desert had turned to sea.
There were plants and birds, and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings.
The ocean is a desert, with its life underground,
And a perfect disguise above.
Under the cities lies, a heart made of ground,
But the humans will give no love.

Xanadu!

Aaron heard Charlie. At the bottom of the cliff. Her leg filled with machine gun bullets. They had hidden in a cave. She would die…Only Aaron was left.

He had to make it to the Wastelands. He had been able to get his iPod to accomplish one function. To locate the source of power. That source lay somewhere in the west. Further west than Texas. Further west…the burglar had to make it. But beware of Smaug.

The sun tan man had stopped walking.

-I had a nickname at your company. The Kripster, you called me. To make fun of me. There were a group of black thugs that used to hang out near the store near our office. I said something about it, said it doesn’t take much…especially when the sun is out…to get the thugs to start showing up. The gangs, I called them. And you. You got everyone to laugh at me. Called me the Kripster.-

Aaron truly hallucinated now. He imagined that the desert had transformed into a garden of eden. Flowers and springs of water and a cool wind. He nearly wet his pants with joy. Tears…he could barely form tears…the water looked so cool. But he didn’t have the strength to reach the waters. He just kneeled down on the sand. Ready to die.

Kripster…

The floor of the desert began to open. And just like that movie with the planet of the apes, flames leapt up…

Xanadu!

The flames turned the Kripster into a torch. The human torch. Aaron pointed towards the pools of water. Jump in the water!

A crazed creature began to howl into the sky.

The earth began to shake and Aaron felt himself begin to fall. Downwards into a hole. A sinkhole. Aaron had that sinking feeling, a bad feeling. He had a bad feeling about this.

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,
It felt good to be out of the rain.
In the desert you can remember your name,
Cause there aint no one to give you no pain.

The last thing Aaron remembered. Falling through a hole in the ground. Into the dark. Into the darker forgetfulness of his mind. Silence.

He heard Miles begin to yell at him…



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