Only a short time had passed before Stephen’s legs began berating him with queries of when and where and why this particular how had become the way? Stephen himself, questioned why they were walking and hadn’t simply taken the van? He even remembered asking odd-legs at one point, “why?” And he had answered back something mumbled and half baked about the orange taking hold.
They walked in a strange and busy silence down the road now littered with small sand dunes and garbage blown around from the storm. The buildings beside them stood with imperious-cross-armed stances, shining what little office light they dared onto the darkening paths that wore beneath Stephen’s feet. Odd-legs was prattling on about something while Stephen tried to half listen, getting wisps of recipes or vitamin lists that he couldn’t quite put into an organized construct so he just paid attention to the horizon.
It was orange.
Or was that just the colour he demanded of the sunset’s form?
Stephen blinked several times, trying to push a lemon seed from his eye while simultaneously attempting to press the orange from his view and it made for some awkward gaits beneath his knees. He tripped a few times, stumbled, wobbled, as if his legs were getting shorter or his body were getting rounder.
Odd-legs piped up at the two step waltz that Stephen was performing in the middle of the street but it fell on deaf ears. While trying to find a balance between walking and not walking Stephen forgot about his legs and began to wonder where the story had taken such a strange turn. When had it devolved into such chaos? Was it when he was first picked up in the cop car? Or had it been when he met the chief…? No, that wasn’t it.
Again odd-legs perked up and mentioned again, about the orange taking hold.
“That’s it!” marked Stephen. “That’s exactly when things got weird.”
“What?” asked odd-legs, “You mean just now?”
Along the horizon, the sun was no longer in view. Instead it rested its fiery wings somewhere around noon hour, high above the white kepi caps of the royal legion positioned at the exact centre of the desert. They were huddled around an unexploded shell sitting by the east end of their huge canvas command tent. The shell’s propeller-like end poking up from the sand cast a shadow that looked like starburst. Stephen was not three inches from the firebomb with his spectacle out and focused on the inscription on its side when the camel walked up, groaning as it rolled its head in close to the focal point of the crowd, curious too of the ammo’s intentions.
“Dammit horse, not now!” bellowed Casper, pushing the muzzle of the beast backwards to avoid any unnecessary damage.
“It’s a camel.” retorted Jonny.
Casper threw a shade at Jonny that covered all three men in a cold shower before Stephen broke the bickering.
“Could you two shut up?” he spoke while holding his spectacle in one shaky hand in front of the bomb. “I’m nervous as is. I don’t need you two adding to the anxiety.”
“Right. Sorry.” said Casper to his feet before swinging out to hit Jonny in the back of his shoulder, who jumped and apologized too.
The men had spent the entire morning pacing around the unexploded shell, trying to estimate its arrival and origin while sweating tiny plastic beads from their pores. The sun barking at their necks was adding to their irritation and the constant interruptions of camels and sand thrown by windy hands was not assisting the matter further. That, and the terrible sleep they had in the night.
Stephen kept waking from strange dreams where he had been a cannibal, a jungle plant painted cannibal with teeth for eyes and eyes too big for his teeth. In the somnolent universe of the evening, he had chased beautiful, blonde haired American women in khaki shorts through snake riddled rivers and spider strangled trees. He had cut the flesh and sinews of fair skinned maidens and chewed their bones to dust. When he woke, screaming or sweating, he woke the other two and threw bone dust at their eyes, causing them to cry for his weeping state.
Casper and Jonny had come accustomed to the night terrors, they all had them here and there; it was a war outside. Or at least, it was supposed to be, no one had seen a bug for weeks but these night terrors, they had sunk deep. Dreams of eating another human while slowly going cabin crazy in a wide open sand dune, it struck a different rib and produced a different tone.
“What’s the range of these mortars?” asked Jonny.
“One to two kilometres I believe.” Said Casper.
Jonny studied the trajectory by the position of the dial face in the sand. “I’d guess it came from hard east,” he turned around and pointed into a vast landscape of nothing and salt. “from that direction specifically.”
One of the four camels grunted.
“What’s it matter?” asked Stephen.
“Just trying to think ahead. Maybe we should talk about scouting out that way?” Said Jonny.
“Naw.” Said Stephen. “Chief said to stay right here.”
Stephen leaned further forward, trying to see the squiggles of the inscription as more than just little worms, his nose touched the metal and it smelled like lemon polish or ascorbic-acid and the letters that slowly formed looked a corroded green from the gunmetal of the shell.
“But if they get a foot closer, they’ll be shelling the tent!”
“I doubt it was an intentional shot, there would be others if it was.” Said Casper.
“Besides,” continued Stephen. “Chief said to stay put and so we stay put.” as the strong scent of tea in his words fell from his lips the first few words on the shell’s side began to make sense. They read…
when the orange
Stephen’s head was a tunnel of green vine that he travelled along until the bee plucked him and dropped the seed of his eye in another flower. Then he was pregnant and then blooming and then looking from the telescope into a hazy image of himself, in another place, in another body that was the same but different. There he ate an orange and it screamed as he removed the rind. It shook and trembled as his nails dug beneath the bed of white calcium and drug ruts along the fleshy fruit below. It filled Stephen with citron and sickness, a yellow fever that compacted and lifted his organs so far into his throat that he thought he might vomit pus and ivory bile.
He snapped his back to the desert, the heat on his neck made his skin into a sail of poltergeists and the wind dared to push him away.
“You okay?” asked Casper. “You look a little white Stephen.”
Something acrid burned its way up Stephen’s throat and he poured white onto the shell from his mouth. The water was fire and his stomach was so empty and his head so far away he almost fell over.
“Oh my god.”
He heard someone say but it was so far in the past he couldn’t make it out as more than just a story from Grimm.
Blurred vision had split the inscription in front of him in two distinct stories but the thing that came from his stomach, the sheet of phantasm, made the words stand out and as his vision turned black he caught the last two words.
Gasping, Stephen struggled against the pulp in his throat. It was citrus in flavour but had the distinct shape of a noir film femme fatale. An antagonist. And a smoker.
“You alright Poc?” Odd-legs was looking at him, his eyes crescents of concern and Stephen thought he made out the soft shape of a kepi cap but it was just a halo.
From the investigation lamps above.