The denial is first. I can’t possibly be lost. This has to be a dream. Just over that hill is a camp, a road, a caravan train. Something. Anything. Instead there is more desert. More dunes. Not a soul to be seen no matter where I look. I am angry now. Those traitorous, thieving nomads left me here. Baco and Rosita decided my things were worth more than I and tossed me off the side of the wagon in the night!
I am sad now. My journey is over before it even began. A promise made to a dying man is left unfulfilled. The tears come quickly. This was always my fate, I tell myself. Everyone in the village warned me of what would happen. And yet there I was in the desert, many days from home. They told me not to leave but I did not listen. I couldn’t stay. Rodrigo had shown me my future. A road which led to Esmeralda. Was it madness? Was it grief? Even now I know not the answer.
I pray to anything that will listen. I shout for the Goddess to show me mercy. I beg for Muerta to leave my soul be for now. I call to the saints of the earth and stone, the angels of the air and the wind, I even whisper to Kristos, the Shepherd, to show me the way but only the hot wind answers me.
A story comes to me. The story of Fuego, the burning man, of how he triumphed over the desert by hiding beneath the sand. I dig into the sand, further and further until I am elbows deep. My fingers touch something cool. Solid dirt hidden from the light. I dig more, so that I can hide my aching feet from the unforgiving sun.
That is when the smoke catches my attention. In the distance it is visible, wavy through the haze of dust and heat. Smoke could be good or bad. I decide it is better than frying out here. I am left with nothing now other than my meager clothes and a cut on my forehead that is bloody but long dried. With aching muscles I walk toward salvation or death. My mind wanders.
It wanders to Nuevo Chine, my home, my birthplace, for a while my future deathplace but that seems less likely now. It wanders to my parents, my sisters, my familia. Tenders, potters, miners, workers all. A long chain, going back to when the town was first settled; back when people needed metal from the earth itself. Back before there was a Meyco, some said. But it is not that way now. Now there is the parched earth, the hot wind, the nomads. My father used to say we live in a smudge. The lines aren’t so clear out here. Where Meyco ends and Tierrapon begins is different depending on who you ask.
The Dons don’t care so much, nor Her Royal Oneness at the capitol, but it matters a bit to us who live day to day on the edge of everything. One can end up without their head if care isn’t taken. Others become Perdido, an old spanyol word meaning lost. Lost like I am now in a place I never should have come to.
After walking for so long that my feet feel like they could fall off, I see the source of the smoke. The caravan I had paid to catch a ride with. A smoking ruin. My heart sinks into my stomach and I weep. My death is certain now. I have but to count down on my fingers the number of breaths I have left before the sun, the sand or whoever did this comes and takes me. But before my whole being plunges into despair I have a thought. It is possible that my things are still there somewhere. I remember the wagon that carried me, with the wheel that squeaked in the night, the one with the lover’s names carved on the side. Before I know it, I am there looking for my things. The only things I have left in this world.
The smell is horrendous. The smell of people and animals freshly expired, baking all day. I am not unaccustomed to death. I have lost friends and family to disease, thirst and heat. I have woken at first light to see bloated husks lying on the floor. This I can barely handle. It is a massacre. One I somehow survived. Memories come to me now. It is dark and the squeak of the wheel will not let me sleep. Then screams, whoops, hollers. I hear Baco say something I don’t understand. Then all goes black.
Somewhere along the way I ended up on my face while the nomads ran for their lives, confused and scared in the night. I feel bad for cursing them as I did before. No one deserves a fate like this. I find the wagon I’d been trying to sleep in. It lays on its side, squeaky wheel still spinning in the wind, refusing to die. My belongings, all stored in a single shoulder pack, are not in sight. With a heaving grunt I lift the wagon enough to peek beneath it. There in the shade I find it. My world seems less hopeless for a moment.
“Come out and show your face!” someone calls. I freeze. A loud, gruff voice, dry and scratchy, sounds like it belongs to an angry giant. I try to squeeze beneath the wagon but I do not fit. “You there. Don’t move.” I turn to face him. He looks and sounds old and tired. He is covered from head to toe in black garments, not unlike the nomads who’d been my guides, but he wears other things. Chains, belts, bits of jewelry, feathers, a large piece of rolled up parchment and many other things I can’t even name. One of his eyes is missing, his left eye, covered by the black cloth wrapped around his face. He is a Basurero. A scavenger. A human vulture.