Get Thee Behind Me, Get Thee Beside Me
“Come on, Ponce,” Mira said, tugging again on the coarse lead. The mule dug all four hooves into the sand and laid his white-tipped ears back. He was done, and Mira could hardly blame him. The crumbling trail stretched on and on until it arrived in the town of Dalton, a startling patch of green on the red dust plain. Right now, if she were to hold up her hand, it would disappear under her thumb.
“We’re not going all the way tonight, bonehead.” Behind them the sun hung low, dripping fire onto the horizon. “But we’re also not sleeping this close to the mountains.”
After a spell, the mule acquiesced. The small wagon creaked along, and Mirasol’s bones ached in sympathy. A day spent digging clay out of the not-quite-dry lakebed had been harder than she’d anticipated.
She guided Ponce into a depression beneath a dune and unhooked him from the wagon. Red clay cracked and fell from the hem of Mira’s dress as she set to making a fire. It was no wonder Honaw had sent her instead of coming himself. The apothecary’s mind was twisted by his craft, but he must have known he was too old for this task. And why should he be bothered with physical labors when he had an able and willing apprentice?
Mira settled onto a blanket, idly rubbing at patches of dried clay on her legs and arms. Normally, this time of night, Honaw – if he was in the mood – would tell her stories. Tales of brave warriors, pining spirits and bloodthirsty skinwalkers.
She pretended she wasn’t scared, so far from town. She pretended she wasn’t lonely.
She woke to the feel of a weight climbing her leg and just stopped herself from reaching for it. No telling what was slithering about the desert at night. A small red blob slid over the top of her knee. She blinked. Another followed the first. A round thing appeared between the blobs. A face, more or less. A ridge protruded over glass-shard eyes. It had no mouth.
“Hello,” Mira said.
It hefted itself up until half a pound of red clay creature stood on her leg. Its head rested on a plump middle section. Beneath that, its four legs were made of twigs. She sat up slowly. Where it had been caked with clay, her dress was now clean. On the other side of the fire, Ponce stomped and whinnied. The clay creature swiveled its head to face the mule, then swiveled it back.
“Don’t worry about him,” Mira said, to the creature, and the mule, and herself.
It turned, revealing a scorpion tail drooping from its backside.
“Isn’t that lovely.”
It seemed to inflate at the compliment. Mira swallowed. Honaw had said the clay was special. She hadn’t thought to ask how. The creature walked to her hand, resting on her thigh. One leg stretched out and scratched at the padded flesh beneath her thumb.
“What are you-” She inhaled sharply when it scratched again. A line of blood rose to the surface of her skin. The clay body spread so it could lower, spider-like, over the scratch. It bent its head and began to suckle. Its entire body rippled with each pull.
Ponce stomped again, and this time his whinny was quiet. Mira couldn’t take her eyes from the creature even as the sound of hoof beats neared. “Little creature, you must hide.” Its body contracted as her fingers closed around it. Its eyes shone brighter and its flesh flushed darker as she slipped it into a pocket above her waist.
She stood as the horses appeared atop the dune, two roans and a bay. The rider of the bay wore a black coat and hat, and silver flashed from his seams and brim.
“Miss Mirasol Sombra.” His voice rumbled with good humor.
“Marshal Paulie.” The creature squirmed, its legs – or maybe tail – scratching at the fabric between her body and its.
“Whatever are you doing out here, alone, at night?”
She didn’t answer as he rode around the berm and dismounted, his deputies following suit quietly. They didn’t look at her, instead surveying the wagon, then cautiously plucking apart the drawstrings of the sacks. Ponce jogged in place, tossing his head.
“Thought he could get away with it, did he?” The marshal laughed. He was jovial for a man of the Order, guarding the line between humans and spirits. He pointed at the wagon. “You know what this is?”
“It’s clay, sir.” The creature scratched at her, in that soft area between ribs and pelvis, and she struggled not to squirm. She had an idea, not a complete idea but the beginnings of one, of what Honaw might have wanted the clay for.
“He thought nobody would notice you off scavenging. Clever bugger.” He approached her, a wide man with the arrogant strut of badged authority. “You know what a golem is, Miss Sombra?”
“It’s a monster. Not like the dark spirits that haunt these hills. It’s worse, fashioned by a man’s own greed. It’s got no soul so it can’t be exorcised. It’s got no heart so it can’t be killed by regular means.”
The deputies tossed the sacks onto the ground and pulled machetes from their saddlebags. They stoked the fire, breaking wood from the wagon and tossing it on top until the flames climbed high.
“What’re you doing?”
“You didn’t hear what I said? This clay is already transforming. We’re here to restore the natural order.”
Behind the Rule Man, the deputies chopped off bits of clay and tossed them into the fire where they hissed and shrieked.
“Your master give you any other chores, Miss Sombra?” Paulie asked, all humor gone. “Anything else I ought to know about?”
The creature pressed its little hands against her skin, and shivered.
“Well, get on your way back to Dalton then, girl. Get thee to safety.”
Participants and posts:Ralph Pines: http://ralfast.wordpress.com/
hilaryjacques: YOU ARE HERE
dolores haze: http://dianedooley.wordpress.com
Linda Adams: http://garridon.wordpress.com
Orion mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com
Damina Rucci: http://thegraypen.wordpress.com
Lady Cat: http://carolsrandomness.blogspot.ca