A second, under-the-wire response to Sonia’s June Writing Challenge about Creatures.
Consider the desert. An entire world in a palette of browns and yellows. Sand and stone, dead dry chaparral. The dessicated corpse of a lizard as hard as the rock it rests, mummified, upon. The heatwaves off the ground creating the illusion of precious water where none exists. Consider the desert.
Now consider the man. Stumbling, feet dragging in the dust and the sand, he struggles across the desert. The sun beats down upon his brow and turns his fair skin red. Moisture he can not spare to lose forms blisters upon his arms, his shoulders, his face. Soon, they will pop and he will be that much closer to death. Even now, he feels that grim spectre looming over his shoulder, but he refuses to look back as shuffles across the waste. Is he even going the right way? He has no idea. Is there a right way? Does the question even have meaning in this place? Maybe the entire world has gone away and left only this desert, going on for eternity in all direction.
The man crests a small rise and stands, stupefied. Below him, in a shallow valley between this crest and the next, is a boneyard. Hundreds, thousands of bones, bleached white by the merciless sun, gleam like macabre toys discarded the day after Christmas. But the truly fantastical part of it is the sphinx.
Not the Sphinx, the big stone thing in Egypt. This is a living, breathing creature, and it’s man-like head turns to face the man-like man.
“Ah, a visitor,” the creature’s voice is the susurration of sand rolling down the lee-side of a dune. “Welcome Man. I’ve not had one of your kind here in so long. Let us play the Game.”
The man pried his chapped lips apart and licked at the blood that formed there. This whetted his throat enough so he could croak out a word. “Game?”
“Yes, the Game,” the sphinx bared it’s sharp teeth in a wicked grimace of amusement. “I ask you a Riddle. If you guess right, you get to live and I will grant you one wish. If you answer wrong, I eat you and your bones will lie beside those you see here. Are you ready?”
“No,” the man choked out, then “Water.”
“Sorry,” the sphinx shook it’s head. “No prizes until you win. Let us begin. We will use the standard ‘what am I’ format. I will recite some verse, and you have to guess what it refers to. Here we go.”
The sphinx took a breath and then in a louder voice began to speak. “A symbol of eternity, the union of the diverse into the single. Uncorruptible, I have no beginning or end.”
The man glanced down at the wedding ring on his finger, holding it up weakly so the sun glinted off the bright gold. He tried to speak, but his throat was closed again. He coughed several times, and again gasped for water.
Horrible sharp teeth gleamed wickedly as the creature pounced.
Later, as the man’s bones began the long slow process of bleaching for eternity, the sphinx sat back on it’s haunches. “Funny,” it mused to itself aloud, “No matter what I ask, they always guess ‘Water’.”