Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The second installment is presented this week by Joe Milazzo.
You recognize this scramble. The starlings, the hawks, even the herons: they don’t want the rocket to launch. Unquestionably they delay it, and isn’t this indefinite postponement outright prevention, itself evidence of some will? You would ask, but, here in the country between the desire lines, faces welcome no answering. And telling is as scarce as water. Still, just as you’ve drunk from mudholes and sumps, here and there you’ve heard the rumors of ivory engines themselves rocket-tall, rocket-arrogant, murdered murders and slaughtered murmurations, a final revolution of dissimulations, loosened fists of wind, a mysterious hunger weaving its brown nature through great pastures of long stalks. (That was bread, or what bread had been.) Now all your news is seen before heard, flaring from muzzles that mark their killing at a tempo that strikes you as lazy. Meaning: news has become a tautology.
You begin to set your camp. You’ve waited longer than you’d like. Tomorrow… The cackling darkness drags its confusion back and forth across the lowering sun. Even if gathering tinder from these sere hills is no chore, you must be careful of the puss worms. And you must never forget to remove your boots. Ants will swarm leather, and the coyotes follow the ants. You fill your boots with dust and spit a rough circle around them. Against your bare feet, the litter of yucca and creosote feels like sand.
When you return, arms heavy with fronds, he’s squatting before your boots, turning a finger around a corner of his mouth as though he doesn’t know what to do.
“And what shall we accomplish now?”
He speaks without looking up. If you were a stranger to yourself, you might mistake his voice for yours. You drop your bundle where you stand, stupidly inside the clearing you now realize he has widened in your absence. Suddenly, the distant parliaments thunder, a clearance of hornets. Just as suddenly again, they’re muted, nested.
“I see. You understand that’s no way to build a fire.”
You begin to pull some order out of the heaps you’ve brought with you.
“Anybody could have made their approach unawares in this light.”
Even as he turns the back of his head to you, the oily blonde feathering the straight of his neck, you can glimpse the outer edges of his moustache.
“It happens all the time, even out here. It’s what we do, creatures that we are. We encounter each other.”
And for the very first time it occurs to you that a moustache has another side not its underside.
“Someone will unconfound it in the by-and-by. It’s only that they must.”
Is it that you’re grunting? Is it that you yourself have a report to file, but, that, once again, fear has redacted it? He’s unarmed, and neither wanted nor unwanted. He’s only looking parallel to the dry channel and across the limits, in the direction where the rocket’s gleam is marooned on its pad. The hope of its payload, the promise of it being brought back, stage by stage… this narrative has towered over the ocean-forsaken blocks of that revenant city for how long? Soon the buzzards will come and peck at the silver of its rivets.
“Flight always was intended to be a morning ceremony. What is a morning anymore? More belated than dreams, more premature than any awakening. There were once mornings when take-off cast its flames across a backdrop of blue.”
You return your cold flint to the inner fold of your cloak. More cold is coming. His voice is old, older than any name erased from this earth. Yet you tell yourself it hangs like pollution. The night is more certain than the day. He’s just a bandit, yellow as a scarecrow. He’s just your luck, a wanderer, another path leading back to the same desolation. You creep closer, not on your knees but your heels. He’s nothing but another strain of ragged music, another mockingbird, another thought thought for you by the circumstances that have you surrounded: this is how starting over ends. You almost say it aloud, and to the no one in particular whose has taken shape in the form of this visitor. Instead, as silently as you can, you reach for another stone. Surprised to uncover just such a missile, you watch as its minerals shatter, lavender and oyster, against his ear.