Badlands VI, VII & VIII
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
Very well then. Whatever it was, he would face it, and face
it alone. He took a deep breath, checked the sword of nameless metal on his
back, and stepped forward once more.
He hadnít gone far when he heard the singing. At first he
didnít realise it was actually singing. It was so soft that had
everything not been so silent he wouldnít have heard it at all.
It was a thin, high, wordless song, at the very upper limit
of hearing, rising and falling in such complex patterns that he couldnít
believe that it came from a human voice. And yet the sweetness in it was so
great that it might have brought tears to his eyes if he had still been capable
of tears. And almost without his conscious volition, his feet moved, taking him
closer to the singing.
It came from one of the smaller houses in a side street, a
building so much the same bleached colour as the desert that it seemed as
though the sands had been gathered up and somehow made into walls and a roof.
He paused, then, unsure if he should enter, something in the back of his mind
urging him to turn away and leave as quickly as he could, to continue on to the
end of the town Ė if there was an end to the town.
But he might wander among these streets forever, and there
was nowhere to go if something happened. He took a deep breath, settled his
helmet more securely on his chain mail coif, and walked up to the door.
It opened slowly to his touch, reluctantly, as though it had
not moved in a long, long time and hadnít thought it would ever have to move
again. The room inside was dark and thick with shadow, and he paused to let his
eyes adjust. The singing came from somewhere in the shadow, and had not paused
for a moment, not even at the opening of the door.
Blinking away the darkness, and stooping to avoid the
sagging lintel of the door, he entered.
She was sitting on the other side of the room, bent over
something on a frame, her fingers flickering to and fro, while she sang, sang,
the wordless tune. He could see little of her for the shapeless gown she wore,
grey as the dust. Only her long, pale arms and fingers, and the side of her
face, moved back and forth as she worked the frame.
"Lady?" he asked. "Lady?"
Slowly, she turned. She must have once been a great beauty,
but her face was drawn and thin, with her eyes huge and staring in the gloom.
She stopped her singing and stared at him.
"Are you all right, Lady?" he repeated, feeling inadequate.
Her lips moved, trembling. Her voice was a whisper. "Are you
"Well, yes," he said. "As real as anything is. What are you
doing here, Lady?" In order not to have to stare at her, he peered around the
gloom. The thing she had been working on was a loom of some kind, and she was
spinning a mass of the grey material. It looked as though she was making thread
out of the dust.
She didnít answer his question. Getting to her feet, she
came across the room to him, obviously agitated. "Why have you come here? Leave
while you still can. Oh..." she peered into his face, her huge black eyes
seeking. "You canít leave, can you? Itís already too late."
He looked at her. "Already too late? Could you explain?"
"Explain...I wish I knew everything, so I could explain.† All
I can tell you is that anyone who enters this town canít leave again."
"And where is everyone else?"
"Theyíre there." She waved a hand. "Everywhere. All over the
town. Only they donít want to come out, and who can blame them?"
"They donít?" He turned to look out of the door. The street
lay quiet in the sun. "Why donít they want to come out?"
"Would you, if all you could do was wander around and
never be able to get out again, just hurt yourself with the memories and the
yearning?" She touched her mouth with her long pale fingers. "Iím sorry, youíve
just arrived. I shouldnít have spoken so shortly. But youíll find out for
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