In a dream.
He arrived at the scene like some ragged messiah, his hands unfastened to the sun and his face betraying a wisdom that well transcended his age. He was bruised, beaten by some rube beneath gnarled, black poplars and dappled skies, in the pasture on the outskirts of town. It had been the result of trespassing, although unbeknownst to him, and he was immensely grateful the man bore no rifle.
The small knot of people moved their eyes—as if they constituted one giant, glaring beast—to scorn the man atop the hill. They had all been captivated by some two-man drunken quarrel long before he had come stumbling above them. One man yawned, one scratched behind an ear. They harbored no real interest.
He supposed he was there to advocate some sort of cease-fire, even though he recognized these men would not swallow the remedy he wished to convey. His intentions were of no use to men like them: men who lived idle, slothful lives; perverted men; the men who observed violence with enthusiasm and an adoring eye. He was a man of petty sins and honest morals.
“Unfurl your fists,” he pleaded as he gestured a bruised hand to the intoxicated men standing center stage, now wrestling in the sun-kissed dirt.
The collective beast turned with menacing eyes to observe the quarrelers as they punched, kicked, howled, and spat. A gasp. A tiny, miniscule cry. The skirmish concluded: a man lay crumpled on the ground, unconscious or maybe dead. The crowd dissipated like swarming bees.
A sigh trickled like honey from his parched lips, and he watched the beast dwindle to nothing but air, pollen, and a hundred tiny footprints in the muck and dirt. It is a sorry man who dies over folly, he thought to himself; but the slumped man was not dead, only lying in a drunken slumber.
The black-and-blue dappled man descended the hill, and tiny golden rocks followed like little shards of metal to a magnet. With each step, his bare knees trembled and swayed in the shade of his cut-off trousers. The steps unraveled a maddening snake of dust; and by the time he reached the bottom, the snake had constricted its widening body around the unconscious man. It did not squeeze the man to an unpleasant end, but rather cradled him until the serpent succumbed to a passing breeze and withered away into the crown of the waning sun.
Time oozed by with the advancing of the night’s dominion. The young drifter had migrated somewhere far to the west of the scuffle, past forests and fields, cow pastures and silent ponds. He sat low on the gravel-strewn side of a hill, breathing in the fragrant honeysuckle and tender wind of the witching hour. The breeze dripped with the weeping song of cicadas and predatory chant of owls; they all marauded the night for everything it was worth and left nothing but the vast sky and the earth that slept beneath him. The evening air clung to his skin like velvet as he sought some sort of solace from the moon’s incandescent face, but it only stared with its perpetual, come-hither visage.
After a long moment, she swallowed him whole and left nothing, not even his last words.