solosilver - Dream on Black Wings "God, please grace us with rain. Even a flood would be welcome in this drought. I'd appreciate a tidal wave, but that's just me,” whispered Jeremy as he knelt in the dirt beside his withered crops. Tears rolled down his face from beneath his closed eyelids. He pictured himself on the deck of a ship. He tilted his face up and could almost feel the water splashing it. He could see the waves, great beautiful waves crowned with white like young brides. He opened his eyes. The pale blue sky stretched above him. It was empty except for the sun. His tongue darted out in an attempt to wet his lips. It came back into his dry mouth wet, and tasting like blood. Jeremy winced at the stinging and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He rose slowly and tottered into the shanty he shared with his wife and son. His poor baby son was so weak it could no longer cry. His wife raised her head when he entered. It trembled an inch above the pillow for a moment, then fell back. Her tiny body shivered beneath the tattered blanket. Her lips moved as though she was trying to speak despite her dried throat. Jeremy walked to his wife, kissed her dusty forehead, and stroked her hair. She looked up at him, pleading for a drop of water. “I’m sorry, dear. There is no water left. The jugs are empty. The well is dry. And in town they are charging twenty dollars for half a gallon.” “Neighbors?” she whispered. “Tomas just lopped off his mule’s ears to give his family something to drink. And I wouldn’t put it past Brad to kill me to get something to drink for his son. He lost his youngest yesterday.” She looked up at him hopelessly and hugged the baby she was holding even closer to her. Jeremy turned away. He could not look at them. He picked up the only book he owned from the table and walked outside. The cover was faded, but when Jeremy looked closely he could read Moby, and, at the bottom, Melvi. He opened the book and looked at the picture his father had always kept there. A giant blue wave crested in the center of the frame. Beyond it the sky stretched endlessly over the water. A massive white bird soared above the wave on black wings. Its wickedly hooked beak was stretched open in what must have been some sort of caw. A line, almost like an eyebrow, gave the bird’s eyes an exotic appearance. He had studied the picture so many times that he knew it by heart. “If only the town was by the sea. What I wouldn’t give to be a sailor,” Jeremy whispered. A bird flew out of nowhere and landed gracefully at Jeremy’s feet. “You’re the bird in the picture!” cried Jeremy. “I am God.” replied the bird. After seeing Jeremy’s shock it added, “I take whatever form you need.” “I have always dreamed of seeing you. But I never thought I would.” “You must always have faith. Your prayers have been answered. There will be rain. You will have tidal waves. You will be a sailor. Do you believe in me?” “Oh, yes, Almighty God. Yes, I do.” “You are a prophet, Jeremy. And I need you to tell these desert people that they need to welcome change into their hearts. They must learn to swim.” “Almighty God, I will do as you say. But please help my wife and child.” “I cannot. It is not part of the plan. You must sacrifice them. Before rain can wet this soil their blood must.” “But, God-” Jeremy couldn’t think. He felt sick. He wrapped an arm shakily around his distended stomach. “You said you believed in me. I need you to have faith and spill their blood on the fields for the sake of all men. If you cannot show your selfless devotion to me, I cannot have faith in these lost people of dust.” “But, God-” “Silence, mortal! Do as I command!” The bird screamed in a high pitched whistle. Heat lighting flashed. Jeremy jumped to his feet and ran inside the house. The book flopped into the dust, followed by the picture, which fluttered down to land gracefully on top of it. “God has come! He is going to make it rain! Come outside and see!” Jeremy cheered, but the words did not seem to be his. They came from his mouth, but he did not think them. His wife groaned. “Come on. Let’s show the baby what rain is! What God is!” Jeremy was shouting passionately and tugging his wife out of bed. He carried her and the baby through the door and to the withered crops. Jeremy set her down and supported the small of her back with one hand. His wife cradled the baby. With his other hand Jeremy reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket knife. He glanced at the bird sitting on a nearby fence post. God was watching him with his beady eyes. God opened his beak and let out a call that sounded like thunder. Jeremy flicked his knife open. “I hear the thunder!” Jeremy cried. “I don’t hear-” His wife started to whisper, but her words were cut off as Jeremy slashed her throat. God whistled. Jeremy grabbed the baby as his wife fell, blood watering the dying crops. He slit the baby from throat to groin, spilling its blood and guts into the starved soil. The baby whose mother’s milk had dried up fed the soil and pleased the cruel god on the fence post. Jeremy came back to himself. “My God! What have I done!” he wailed, looking at the knife he could not remember taking out of his pocket. He looked at the fence post. The bird was gone. The strength that had kept him standing disappeared. The world spun before his eyes. He collapsed from dehydration in the dust beside his wife and child. A cloud of dust rose along the road into town. It turned toward the Tomas farm, then the Brad farm. After it passed smaller clouds of dust emerged from the farms and began to disappear toward town. The Relief Corps had come with gallons of bottled water. The cloud of dust approached Jeremy’s farm. The sheriff rode slowly up to the house, dismounted, walked to the door, then knocked. He turned away from the door to survey the depressing landscape. He saw the bodies. “Jeremy!” He yelled as he ran, hand on gun, toward the three figures. The sheriff could tell right away that the wife and baby were dead. “Jeremy,” he said, shaking him. Jeremy came to at once. “What happened! Who did it? Don’t worry, we’ll get them.” “I killed my wife. I gutted my son. I am God’s prophet and the rain will come. I will have tidal waves!” He started in a flat voice and finished in a shout. The sheriff drew his gun. “I am a prophet! Do not shoot! I am a prophet! God says I will have tidal waves! I will be a sailor!” The sheriff backed away from the screaming man. Dust caked Jeremy’s face. White paste flecked his lips and collected, like polluted sea foam, in the corners of his mouth. “I am a prophet! God told me I must tell the people to welcome change into their hearts! I must tell them to swim! We must learn to swim and I will be a sailor! I will hunt the white whale! I will see the white froth on the waves! I am a prophet!” The bird flew overhead, whistling and clicking at Jeremy’s shouted speech. Jeremy looked up at the bird. “God! I will tell them! I preach your words!” The sheriff backed away from Jeremy. “Jeremy, son, that’s not God. That’s a vulture. The dehydration is getting to you. Now, come quietly into town, and we’ll get you a drink. We can sort all this out. It’s alright, son.” “No, no. He’s God, He’s God.” The bird whistled. “Stop this nonsense!” The sheriff shot at the vulture and missed. “How dare you shoot at God! You devil worshipper!” Jeremy charged at the sheriff. The sheriff fired his gun deftly. Jeremy fell with blood leaking from his heart into the soil. He stared toward the house where the book and picture lay in the dust. In his last moment Jeremy saw the great white bird with black wings fly away from the dying land toward the bountiful ocean. The sheriff looked sadly down at Jeremy. “Poor fellow. He was always so full of dreams. Always talking about water that stretched beyond the horizon.” The sheriff shook his head. “Water stretching beyond the horizon. There sure are some strange ideas out there.” The sheriff looked up at the vulture and shook his head again. “You aren’t going to just let your ‘prophet’ rest in peace, are you?” He took careful aim at the vulture still circling above Jeremy’s body. He pulled the trigger and the mass of black feathers plummeted into the dust. “Well, come on, we better get some men out here to bury these folks,” said the sheriff as he mounted his horse and rode slowly back toward town. The merciless sun beat down on the blood-drenched wife, gutted baby, broken-hearted man, twisted vulture, and picture of the wave and albatross that had been Jeremy’s dream. The picture faded into whiteness.