He, figure, picks fruit off tree, feels it full and ripe in his hands. Figure digs his thumbs in and pulls it open to see what’s inside. As he walks, he picks out fruit’s seeds and drops them behind him, juice dripping from his fingers, splashing his feet. Crocodile follows. Night shuts closed on day.
Figure is black in the way that night is black, featureless, eyeless. Ground appeared beneath his feet although ground was already there in the way earth appeared in space although earth was already there. Dawn even though it was already dawn, fruit even though there was already fruit, and so forth.
One thing eats another thing because it always has. Eyeless worm eats earth and morning bird, tail up, eats worm. Reptile, smooth and legless, coils up tree and feasts on morning bird’s eggs. Fox trots away with limp reptile in its mouth. Flies and white maggots, clustering on dead-eyed fox, its belly open to sun, work quickly, before earth takes fox back. And it will take it back and it will take it back because it’s always taken back.
Figure sits high on stony outcrop overlooking barren desert. He watches black eagle fly, silhouette gliding through scalded sky, trying to see a pattern in its movements. Eagle catches updrafts as if in fun, as if dancing with sky, before dipping closer to desert surface for inspection of prey only it can see. Eagle-call pierces and echoes across the range. Sun shimmers over figure’s head. Figure knows it is hot, is in possession of this knowledge, but it does not force him out of day and into shelter. There is a certain peace here that rises from desert’s emptiness. It is not dead or abandoned land, simply aged. Primitive plant, black-shelled beetle, line of ant (some of which, in their hurry, run across figure’s knuckles) and crocodile is nearby – she dozes under tree at the base of outcrop where figure sits, trying to stay out of the heat. But life here is limited. This land is eons old. This land always was. Something – water, wind, gods – has moved through here again and again, each time following the same paths, grinding down land in its passing, taking with it the nutrients and water to nurture life, turning the land to stone and dust. Or maybe this is how land begins, maybe it waits to be terraformed by gods and elements. And in the years that it has waited, rat has crept in, and eagle with keen eyes followed, and eagle spread seeds and hardy desert plant sprouted, bringing ant and beetle, and so while waiting land became something of its own.
No, figure decides. No. This is old land. It was once maybe verdant plains or the bottom of a vast sea. Sun beats down on it unsurprised, like it knows its every face.
Figure watches eagle’s effortless movements through sky as it surveys land. He watches it smoothly meander as if around invisible obstacles. Then he sees it turn out of its flights of grace, as if to make room, emptying sky, and flapping away.
Figure sees movement on desert’s floor, sees, now, what eagle saw. A shadow travels in sure step across open land. Figure searches sky, but there is nothing to cast such a shadow. He watches this thing move across earth and realises that this is not a shade but an autonomous creature; a thing of its own – it steps out of the way of boulders, walks through ravines and shallow valleys and appears out the other side. It, figure thinks, at one point, even stumbles. It moves with purpose, left leg right leg. Figure has the idea that it moves just like him. Moves like him and looks like him. Figure understands: the figure below is him.
Double moves fast, certain and steady, like he has walked this way a thousand times and there can be no surprises.
Figure stands then crouches then stands. He is wary of being seen, but wants to keep double in his sights. He almost wants to be seen. If double looks up he will see figure, but double continues on as if he has somewhere to be. Figure takes up small stone, rubs it with his thumb, comes close to launching it at double, imagines hitting double with it, small stone pocking him on the head, before dropping it to his feet.
Double moves in the direction of a ravine that will block figure’s view of him. Before he disappears from sight, figure climbs down outcrop. He hops down onto more rocks then hurries along a flat shelf that leads to a pile of sandy boulders more or less piled atop one another that figure half-slides and half-scrambles down.
Figure is on desert’s floor but double is nowhere to be seen. He looks up and sees eagle has returned, and that there is another on the way. Figure hurries in the direction that double went. He searches the area, until sun starts to dip and he decides to go back to crocodile and can’t be quite sure if he saw double at all.
Figure lurks around desert’s ranges, waiting for double to reappear. He crouches in desert’s sands in the moments before sun emerges over the edge of earth and all the speckles of the night’s moisture are sucked up into nothing and the heat burns away the cold, hoping to catch double on a pre-dawn hunt.
Day comes. Crocodile remains with him, but stays in shade when she can, dragging herself lethargically from shadow to shadow. Figure notices her eyes beginning to weep and turn milky, like flower snapped from bush, watches her drag herself off to look for food at twilight and breathe shallow breaths in the cold night. There is no sign of double, no sign that figure ever even saw him, so, under corrugated clouds, he leaves desert for more fertile land with crocodile dragging herself on her stumpy legs behind him.
Without thinking, figure has travelled back in the direction they came to reach desert. When figure realises this, he pauses and puts his hands on his hips to consider which way to go without again hitting desert. While he thinks, crocodile sidles up beside him. When figure decides on a direction, he steps off that way. Crocodile reaches up and, as he passes her snout, catches figure’s leg between her teeth. She latches on, bringing figure down. Figure, on his hands and knees, turns back to crocodile to see what this is about, and sees hunger in her weeping eyes. He attempts to pull his leg back, but she clamps down harder. He tries to shake her off, but she clamps harder. Figure contorts so that he is sitting, puts his fingers into her mouth and tries to pry her jaws open, but she clamps still harder. With his free leg he kicks at her head, kicks and kicks. She reacts by dragging him backwards and shaking her head from side to side, tentative at first and then with violence, with rhythm. He scrabbles for something to hold onto, clawing at stone and root protruding from old earth as crocodile attempts to wrench figure’s leg from his torso. Soon, crocodile is batting figure, bodily, her body and his body, rolling, left to right, until figure goes limp and, tired, she releases him.
The dust from her thrashing settles and crocodile drags herself around figure, where she stops.
Figure sleeps. Sun sets and moon crosses patchy night sky and sun rises, and still figure sleeps.
He sleeps voraciously, wanting more and more, like he hasn’t ever slept in his life. Maybe he hasn’t. He wants sleep to fill him, to overcome him. He wants to become sleep. He wants to never leave it, not realising that there might be something wrong with that, that permanent sleep is death.
A wide and still landscape of pure mental darkness is interrupted by a dream. Figure dreams that animal-headed gods gather around him as he lies paralysed. At first, they stand over him unmoving, breathing, silenced by the task before them, then they open his belly. They reach deep into him, lift the contents of him out, cradle it in their arms and march it in all directions across earth; he is powerless to stop them, can only raise his head and watch as they take him apart, leave and return. Once he is emptied and they have all returned, they begin to slice him up into thin pieces, beginning at his fingers and toes and moving systematically up each limb. They both eat the slices of figure’s limbs, stuffing the pieces greedily into their animal mouths, and throw them far behind them, over their shoulders, where they land and, upon hitting earth, sprout and change into small incarnations of figure, representative, figure understands, of his essential being.
Before they reach his torso, they stop, take their hands back and turn their heads, distracted by something that isn’t so much in the distance but, rather, over there. Sky falls and a cover of darkness is thrown over his thoughts once more.