Aug 06

The Heat and The Lady

The horse bucked her for the third time since they had left the town of dust. Hard soled boots and the frills of her dress a blooming rose in the sun. The broken ground of the path showed no kindness as the lady crashed down on her shoulder. Petals flattening where gravity met them and becoming still. The lady shrieked at her horse, at the snake rushing off into the dead brush and at the blue stain of color that now crawled under her skin. And with a fistful of dirt thrown in scorn to the wandering wind, the lady slapped her thighs and clambered back on the horse. The mountains shook in the blaze of midday. Shadows stuck under the horses hooves. The lady was trying her best not to sweat as the humming heat grew loud, but the broach round her neck had become slippery on her skin and her cotton dress tacky on her legs. Her water was gone and she couldn't remember whether she had drank it or if the gaping sun had. But the heat, the heat was incredible. Hanging like gauze as if her sweat was the crying of an open wound. Swaying the horizon like pines in a storm. Bleeding the place where the rock met the sky til all lines disappeared and hills and clouds were one. The lady was hot and thirsty and cranky and frankly the spot on her shoulder was throbbing with the heat. Her eyes were pigeon legs under the brim of her hat. The lady bunched her face up as she scanned the swaying sea of blurred lines for a place to rest. The horse lumbered around a sun-tanned boulder and there in the hazy mist appeared a house. The lady dropped the reins in surprise. Surely she would have heard talk of this wasteland cottage at the town of dust. The shutters wore dirt as lipstick - window panes too - but the front porch steps were swept clean. The divots in the center of the steps told the lady that the house had seen many. The lady picked up the reins and steered the horse to the sagging stables behind the house. She gave his sticky rump a pat and sauntered her way to the front porch. Giving the door a knock, the lady listened. The heat hummed and the mountains shook. Desert stalks rubbed like children singing along. But no sounds came from the house. It stood straighter than the warbled lines of the horizon. But quieter. Behind the lace curtains in the window, a shape formed. The knob turned and the door opened. The house's eyelid lifted from slumber. A shriveled woman stood crooked in the shadows. Nose a wicked beak and eyes of a brooding owl. Hair a lump the lady half expected to move and fingers that grew in different directions then they were meant to. 

“Ha!” The innkeeper screeched with an unused rasp. The lady twitched.

“They keep sending me customers from that blasted, wind-blown town!”

“Customers?” The lady questioned.

“What do you think I’m doing out here?” The innkeeper croaked, “selling flowers?”

With a shaking cackle the croon peeled over her apron. The lady was scared. Of the house and of the owl witch.

“Well it is hot.” Said the lady. Straightening her broach.

“Indeed.” Chuckled the innkeeper.

“And a night's rest never did a traveler harm.” The lady mused.

“So it’s settled!” Cried the witch, tugging a rusted key from her apron and folding it in the ladie’s hands with her mangled talons. 

“Your room is on the right above the stairs.” And with that the innkeeper wobbled her way to the kitchen, leaving the door a jar for the lady. 

The stairs creaked as the lady went to her room. The old witch was nothing but a desert snake and the lady wanted only to ride her horse towards the wavering horizon. But the heat kept her in. Rump resting on the whining springs of the mattress. She stayed there for a while. Watching the sand collect on the windowsill. The lady didn’t know if it was the way the witch's smile rose too far or how her hands squirreled up to her apron like antlers, but she rose and went to lock the door. And after hearing the lock slide against the wood, the lady shoulders drooped and she was very happy indeed. The lady had just laid the key to rest on the nightstand, when she heard the breathing. Ragged and rough, hooking every few breaths. It came from the wall. The lady hadn’t noticed the dumbwaiter before, but now it stood apart from the chipping paint. She glanced around the room, heart beating in time with the thing in the dumbwaiter. There was no way she was opening that rusted door without a weapon. She snatched the kerosene lamp from the dresser and smashed the glass on the edge of the table. And wielding the broken lamp with shaking hands she snuck to the breathing wall and the creature inside it. A few steps from the wall the breathing slowed, the things listened. The lady feared whatever it was knew she was here and would spew out in wings and talons and claws and eat her to the bones. But as the lady crept closer, none such thing happened. The lady found her hand on the dumbwaiter handle, rust wet in her sweating palm. She poised the glass above her head, glowing in the afternoon sun, and the lady wrenched open the door. She screamed. Lamp shattering into raindrops on the floorboards. The thing in the dumbwaiter smiled. The horse in the stables lifted its head to the screaches from the upstairs room. Lazy lashes blinked in the evening sun. The house laughed. The house screamed. The house went silent. And the horse went back to his water trough. Thoughts not for the lady. And the desert hummed. And the mountains shook