by S.T. Cartledge
A grown man shouldn’t cry while he’s sinking with his horse into the grey-blue quicksand of the Plutonian desert.
Yet here I am with neon green teardrops leaking down my face while my horse thrashes about like somehow that’s going to do something. The back of his head, his hard skull bucking back, has bashed into my face at least twenty times since falling into this quicksand. Hence the tears. And the blue-black bruises on my face and the brown-purple blood that’s everywhere.
My nose is a punched tomato and my eyes are shiny bloodshot pearls with swollen clam-meat closing in around them. My feet are locked into the stirrups and the quicksand is up to my knees. My mouth is all swollen gums and broken teeth, bits of bone-splinters cutting the walls and roof of my mouth and my tongue. It is salty copper, and each mouthful of blood swallows with the texture of a razor wire milkshake.
And the Plutonian sand worms have crawled inside my boots and begun working their way beneath my skin. The sky is black with streaks of orange clouds, white vultures circling overhead or perching on the corkscrew cacti that surround this desert. They call to each other, a back and forth song of sorrow and despair, their voices like radios tuned to the static behind a single guitar poorly tuned and playing a long, slow, wailing solo. The vultures overlap each other in a competition to be the most tragically forlorn beast in the flock.
The sand worms grind my flesh and bones to pulp, to bone-dust, with their diamond-grade teeth, hollowing me out through holes made between my toes, turning my feet into writhing potato sacks. The horse is already halfway hollowed out. The sad white vultures remain at a distance, watching us sink with their deep red eyes that vanish to black like a gunshot wound being sucked into a black hole.
The quicksand is up to my waist as the sand worms work their way up my legs, consuming everything beneath my skin, leaving a trail of human soup in their wake. Blood drains out the bottom of me, drains out my bashed-in face until I’m bleach-white, no blood left behind my skin.
My nerve endings scream like an orchestra of table saws grinding through the hard-rock shell of a giant Plutonian turtle. That’s what it feels like, and hammers made from their shells beating mercilessly against my skull, and all I can think to distract from this feeling is How did I get here How did I get here How did I get here?
It’s a long story, but I don’t have the time for everything. The quicksand presses against my ribs now, and it’s moments before the sand worms take those away from me and take away my lungs, my heart. My brain will have turned to a grey brown slush before the final sand worms consume my skull and burrow out through my deflated scalp like play-doh hair.
Here’s the abridged version: How I got here. There was a farm house burned down and a child stolen from her bed by a man without teeth, and a gang of thieves with guns that shoot vampire bats instead of bullets. I was sleeping in caves, burning chunks of my own hair for heat and warmth, surviving off the stringy flesh of the blue-striped centipedes I found in the caves, and the wolf-fish I reeled in from the acid lakes. It was going to be a revenge story that would finally make me the hero, but somewhere between the burning farm house and now (might have been something I ate, or maybe the water I drank. I might have been bitten by something, I don’t know) I fell into a delirium, and my better judgement was hazed by fever. I focused all my energy on staying atop the horse, keeping her trotting forward, keeping the last wolf-fish meal in my stomach. That’s when I fell into the quicksand.
It’s inching up my throat and in moments I will be reduced to a hollow human-shaped skin and dragged down to rest with all the other human and animal skins at the bottom of this goddamn sinking pit.
S.T. Cartledge was born in Esperance, Western Australia, at the age of zero. Moments later, he learned to breathe and he liked it so much he has kept it up right to this very day. He is the author of House Hunter. His blog can be found here: https://themanifold.wordpress.com/