First published in the Grammarian, 2012.
THE CAMPFIRE flickered, dancing like a nimble young girl away from the advances of the cold, biting wind. The grey-haired sentry pulled his scarlet cloak tighter around him. ‘Old friend,’ he whispered softly to the fire, ‘old friend once I burned with life too. I do not think I will be able to dance for much longer, as you do.’ He lapsed into silence, exhausted by the weight of his thoughts, and closed his eyes.
Gently, he caressed the coarse sand beside him. ‘You are rough,’ he said to the sand, ‘but I would be too if I had been scorched by the sun, every day since the creation of the world. Yes,’ he paused, ‘you are rough, but you are honest and pure and you only feel as you do because of the tough life you lead. You and I are not so different,’ he smiled.
And then something strange happened. Perhaps he feel asleep. Perhaps it was a mirage. Or a trick played by one of the djinn of the desert. But this much is certain that as the sentry blinked dreams from his weary lashes, his half-open grey eyes saw a dark shape crossing just outside the warm, safe halo of the flickering fire. It was darker than the surrounding night, and paused for moment, silent; motionless. Then it glided on, becoming one of the many unsolved mysteries of the desert that have been padding at the edge of man’s sanity since time immemorial and shall remain long after man is forgotten dust.
And the sentry’s eyes closed, tired from years of gazing at alien shores far from home, and he slipped into one of those strange sleeps of the body that tire the mind and pass the time and do little else.
And when he awoke later, expecting dawn, all he saw was the same dark night, blowing over infinite miles of dark desert sand. And he blinked, wishing desperately for the dawn to come, but the night only swirled tighter around him, blowing out his fire and tugging at his scarlet cloak. And then the old man knew that dawn would never come so he pulled his cloak tighter around him and closed his eyes and drifted into that sleep that rests the body and rests the mind and from which one need never again awake.