Walker surveyed the burning white plain, featureless in the glare of creation.
The leather of his flying helmet was cracked black where he had cut strips with his swiss army knife. Chewed, they provided the only moisture he had taken in 72 hours. He swivelled slowly on his car tyre sandals. Sometimes the skeleton of the charred BlackHawk appeared, comfortingly close by. Sometimes, a black dot would form, an anti-intense negation of its blinding surroundings. It would multiply, firing tracer like across his inner vision. He would stumble then, eyes focusing down onto his gravular treadmill, onto each shard of exhausted limestone. He believed himself to be a giant, the stones foothills, a rare black ant some monstrous machine of war created by the dust mote inhabitants of this rejected ecology.
Rocking and stumbling backwards, he came to visualise the abrupt return from reverie to reality as a bucket of water, thrown in his face. It sustained him.
The GPS twanged and nudged his breastbone. The bright l.e.d. braille read 11.17. He believed that this may be the time, or laterly, a cryptic readout of his existential status, compiled by smart software. Sometimes he embraced an enervating synthesis of the two and sang of his joy at a fleeting glimpse of Oneness. On one occasion, he attempted to stand on his head and sing "Bird on a Wire" after decoding 16.22.
"The White Nile has already come 2000 miles when it unites with the Blue at Khartoum. For six months of the year the combined stream rushes down from the Ethiopian mountains with the effect of a tidal wave, carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of discoloring grit and soil to Egypt."
Walker left Khartoum the day the last animal had been killed. It was a dormouse, hoarded for a family gathering, but discovered by a neighbour. In the ensuing riots, Walker and Rocco, a very black man from Tisissat, had no problem leaving the city, because to leave the city was suicide, to remain not life affirming, only life extending.
They went their separate ways, or so Walker thought, at the site of the first mass grave. Increasingly frequent individual skeletons, laid to rest with arms crossed over the chest, big toes together, led across a baking depression to the Clock of Death, twelve skeletons arranged radially. The violent argument that ensued over the time of the last death made it easy to accept the splitting of their ways and resources (ten litres of recycled water and a pound of grain) and the brief wave as Rocco set out for the Red Sea coast. Walker had decided to go up the baked Nile bed in search of water and its attendant life, hopefully retained in the hidden shaded gorges beyond the third cataract.
Suddenly, he finds himself face down, breathing the dusty halitosis of the death rattle air. A dull silicate thorn feebly attempts to puncture his palm. It sticks like a cheap bindi, then falls back, uncatchable.
Rocco roared at the lion and it let him pass. The spark in his black eyes told of his joy at the discovery of his new powers. The wadi had sprung many surprises on Rocco and the lions, which attacked after stalking him for two days, had been defeated as easily as the huge python which had descended from the branches of a dead tree and locked him in its eternal grip. As his ribs groaned at breaking point, he had felt a surge of energy course through his body, seemingly emanating from his solar plexus. His arms and shoulders bristled with unnatural muscle. The huge snake had been ripped into flying shreds, its coils exploding like a cheap tire in a 70 mph blowout. However, he could not remember gathering and eating the ensuing unexpected meal, which, in moments of self doubt, made him question the reality of the experience. He soon derived little pleasure from questioning any experience in this world of blank flashcards. For now he was pumped full of adrenaline, leaping from boulder to scorching boulder on feet that had never been shod. Rocco had no GPS or headgear, but wore a pale grey european suit with his mother's birthing shawl draped around his shoulders. He carried a black metal stave which he would periodically thrust into the baked dust whenever he found water smoothed rocks. It came up dry.
His father had told Rocco and his eleven sisters the story of the Great Beast which, eons ago, had laid its eggs deep below the earth's crust. These had now hatched, the monstrous offspring emptying the world's oceans and rivers of water to fuel their journey back to their ancestor's solar system. The family had watched the worldwide fires, riots and wars that followed on the internet, but had never left the Nile basin. Father had encountered six europeans in his 73 years as a lowland farmer. Two tried to kill him, one to capture his daughters for slavery and the other three to convert him to some form of Christianity, with bibles written in a language that neither he nor the missionaries could understand.
Father had died the day Kuwait spontaneously combusted. He was spared the fate of his daughters, their murderers too weak to rape them before drinking their blood and cooking the emaciated bodies on the black rocks. This wasn't a localised famine, those had been suffered and survived for as long as life itself. This was everywhere, blanketing the globe in heat, death and dislocation. Rocco's brain registered that his eyes had perceived movement, but he refused to believe it. No more lions now, please. His tears were so salt, they dried on his eyelashes.
The hallucination was intense. He was instantaneously locked into a Roman bath house existence, the marble cool against his naked body as he lay in dappled sunlight next to the pool, its central fountain misting the air with rosewater. The beautiful woman offered the black grapes, reverently, as if she were handling God's piles. Her bright untroubled face disappeared behind her cool, manicured small hand as she reached to stroke his brow, a perfect cleavage forming, the valley to Heaven.
Walker stared across the courtyard, sipping sweet wine from a bronze goblet. He frowned. Rocco was here again.