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Roaches

are just about the only friends

By Sam Eliza GreenPublished 6 months ago 7 min read
2
photo created by SamElizaGreen on nightcafe.studio

Roaches are just about the only friends I’ve met on this desolate plain. Most times, I don’t mind their presence. Today, they’re a creeping reminder of the life I want to escape.

I trudge westward. It’s the only way. Always, I search for something uncertain yet necessary on this mirthless journey toward a pardon I’m sure I don’t deserve. Someone did, once, in the spring.

I discover only roaches, their awfully admirable instinct of surviving. I’m more like my skittering companions than I first realized. Companion — the word haunts me.

I palm my piece, and her silky face lingers in surfaced visions of everything we should’ve been. Now, all I’m promised is dust and the endless game of cat and mouse. Blaze will find me, eventually, and there’ll never be enough shells to settle it. Careless, it was to pretend gardener when rest was never in my cards.

Angry gales threaten the cerulean horizon as I face a crumbling barn. It’s the only marker of time and space between humanity and the great ocean of sand where I’m certain to be lost. It’s no mansion, but roaches never cared for vanity.

“Gunslinger, come in before the storm,” a strangely familiar voice murmurs from the loft.

Where swallows would nest, there’s a woman reclining over a pile of abused quilts, and when I draw closer, climb the ladder, I see the disfigurement of her form. She’s made of straw.

“They left me here,” she sobs. “Help me, Gunslinger?”

“It’s not my name,” I say.

“What is it, dear?”

“Dare.”

“Like Truth or Dare?”

“No, like Trace.”

Tears cascade from the girl’s name. My girl — my knife wielder, my gardener, my healer. Never expected to meet a scarecrow. Didn’t imagine they could be confused.

“Forget it,” I sigh, wiping tears like gnats and idling beside her, not resting, never rest.

"You can call me Patience," she grants.

I’m certain I've heard her voice before.

“Who did this?” I question.

“What do you mean?”

“Who turned you this way?”

Where should have been skin, muscle, ligaments was only straw, somehow taken shape. Roaches burrow in her face — mouth, nose, and eyes crafted from cotton line.

“I was born like this,” her voice stirs as if a galvanized windmill taken by the sultry breeze.

“Do you have a ma?”

She nods.

“Some call her Priestess.”

I give an exhausted grunt. I’m unfortunate enough to have met the odd woman. Some say she used to be a serpent. Last our paths crossed, when she prophesied my unrest, she seemed entirely bygone. Now, she haunts me through her daughterly creation, having lended her own tongue to the fragile woman.

“And she abandoned you?”

“No, she traded me to the farmers, and now they’re lost.”

Lost like the odds I’ll ever return home.

"Why didn't she want you anymore?"

She shrugs misshapen shoulders. Each bristle of straw shifts in the humanly gesture.

“She had some business with the Unkindness.”

I shudder. A forthcoming chaos tears over my grave. Everyone indebted by the way of bullets and their shells must one day answer to the flock.

photo created by SamElizaGreen on nightcafe.studio

“Can you walk?”

I wonder when Blaze will turn this place to ashes. Does he know I’m never alone? Can he even fathom my debts?

“They're not real.”

Together, we stare at her feet — bundles stuffed haphazardly into boots awfully small, once belonging, I’m certain, to a child. What kind of evil brings forth a life so contradictory to itself? In her thready gaze, I discover an existence so misunderstood. She wants for a body as much as I want to be free of this creed I inherited from my greatest grandmother.

Grainy wind beats against the weathered shingles outside. Perhaps the sagging roof will ascend and leave us uncovered to be judged by the tempest. I may be dead heavy enough to stay grounded. I doubt Patience is. She laughs like she considers a secret irony. Didn't know scarecrows could entertain absurdity.

“What?” I ask, a fool with nothing on his mind except the end of tragic legends and the love they leave behind.

“I’m as heavy as harbored dread. Vultures, crows, even the Unkindness are too burdened to bear me. The farmers hauled my weight in the handbarrow until they were too weak. I’ll endure the storm.”

I’m stunned by her intuition.

“Are you in my head?”

“As much as they are,” she says, spitting a cluster of roaches from between her stringy lips onto my lap.

“We’re here first, be here after,” the roaches whisper.

“How did you get up here?” I ask, scooping the pests into my palm, letting them burrow beneath my cuff.

Some fall off my chaps into the cracks between the dusty boards. They will return, always.

“There’s an owl, feeds off dread. Tried to spirit me away, but I was as heavy as everything she’d eaten.”

Suddenly, the storm ceases like a crying babe seeing his ma after a lonely fit.

“Have to leave,” I warn, sure the silence could only mean one thing.

Blaze was coming. Didn’t know scarecrows could seem broody. Guess she got it from her serpent of a mother.

“Here,” I offer, hooking my arm under her spindly shoulders and lifting her upright.

“Leave her,” the roaches whisper.

“They’re right, save yourself,” she insists as if pitifully resigned to her own finale.

Patience has never met Blaze. She doesn’t know the pain of his scorching.

“You ever see flames from the south take the hills, stain the clouds with darkness denser than the Unkindness?

“Yes.”

“He’ll devour you.”

There, I discover a twinge of something long parted from me. Perhaps, just as the roaches, I understand her more than first imagined. My form is of flesh and bone, yet like this abandoned scarecrow, my chest is as heartless as the valley to the east. It has been since I left home. Patience listens to the deceiving stillness beneath my ribs as I heft her over my shoulder and descend the ladder.

“So, that's how.”

She is as weightless as the moment I first flew on dragon-back through the clouds, unbound from hours and direction.

“Did you give it to someone else?”

“I wish.”

Would have been easier leaving it with Trace for safekeeping, but like the harbored dread of this scarecrow, it was a burden too heavy to pawn.

“I buried it where the agave blooms.”

“Ma promised me one from a meadow where they grow like wildflowers in the spring.”

The spring — always a time for innocent hopes. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Blaze turned the very place to embers a year before while hunting me. Somehow, I think she already knows. I carry her over the threshold of the withering barn, soon-to-be a memory, and I'm consumed by the familiarity in my arms because I once held Trace, a homesick toddler, the same.

“You'll see her again,” Patience promises.

I am a fool but not foolish enough to hope for something so impossible. The midday horizon is already marked orange with Blaze's approach. Yet, I don't see him. I never have and never will. In minutes, now just a spec on distance, the barn transforms into torch light.

photo created by SamElizaGreen on nightcafe.studio

I reminisce of the night Trace searched for me out on the prairie, when I was gouged by a feral boar, and she refused to lose her everything. Her stubborn light, flickering in the distance as the chill crept into my soul, is what kept me bound to this body, this land.

A trail of fire crawls from the corpse of the barn, chasing me and my newly befriended kindling. Suddenly, I question if tragic legends must always leave their love behind.

“Friends, have I not been good?” I call the roaches. “Shielding you from the scorching sun on tiresome afternoons? Do I not save you from the fire, always?”

Have they already forgotten how I brought them north through the lake that stagnates black like tar to satisfy their thirst for secrets about the force that’ll finally be their undoing? Housed in the cavern of my chest, the roaches stir with excitement — the only heartbeat I’ve known these dreary days. They’ve never denied a challenge. It’s their way.

“Our price you pay. Sure?” they offer.

It’s part of the creed, an exchange of enemies.

“What’s one more debt?” I agree, raising my arm and letting them fall from my sleeve like a stream of black smoke.

Patience hangs at my side, twisting her neck awkwardly as they take shape. Did she ever anticipate witnessing something akin to her own creation? I’m no good at cards, or gambling, or calling a bluff. Yet, somewhere in the empty core of my body, I know they never needed to be saved from the fire.

When the mass of roaches becomes the shadow of a man, black as ink, I glimpse my own fate.

“What’s the price?” Patience whispers into my ear, and I’m surprised she doesn’t know.

Roach retreats steadfast onto the crimson horizon, delving into the flames. I wonder if he can see Blaze, if he’ll know the wretched face I’ve only glimpsed in dreams that have almost taken me. Then, in a short-lived, ardent duel, Blaze and Roach explode, embers and dust in the arid wind. They’ll both return, eventually.

When the realization of my freshly awoken responsibility settles in, I’m grateful to have left my heart in the chest my daughterly carved on her eleventh spring. It wouldn’t have survived this dread.

“Help me find your ma?” I ask Patience, who is wrapped over my back like a rucksack, arms dangling around my neck.

“What about Trace?” she asks.

“Not yet. We have some business with the Unkindness.”

photo created by SamElizaGreen on nightcafe.studio

I trudge westward. It’s the only way. I remember the stories Trace used to scribble on brittle parchment. This one, she may never know. How many, I wonder, have wandered the expansive dunes searching for answers or purpose? Engulfed in the desert’s parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

***

This story is part of a collection:

SeriesShort StoryFantasyFableAdventure
2

About the Creator

Sam Eliza Green

Wayward soul, who finds belonging in the eerie and bittersweet. Poetry, short stories, and epics. Stay a while if you're struggling to feel understood. There's a place for you here.

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Comments (2)

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  • Dana Crandell6 months ago

    I will be reading that collection. A very interesting take on the challenge.

  • Hannah Moore6 months ago

    This read like a heat hazed hallucination., compelling and tragic and never quite corporeal.

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