the moses code

the moses code (excerpt) 

Yes, he had water. Joe turned from the haggard figure outside the shack and motioned to the shadow in the car to kill the engine. "Hunner-in-one in the shade" the man lazily mumbled, eyes fixed on no one, words summarily swallowed by the winds.

"Storm's a whipping up. Moving in from the west. Be here soon." The man crept animal-like back through the doorway, his voice the texture of sand, bleached white like bone.

Pushing aside the frayed flag that draped the threshold in a vain attempt to divide outside from inside, Joe followed him into the dimness. The girl stepped out of the car and stood warily, still coveting its promise of escape. Sand. Wind. Pale brown blurring endlessly into a grey expanse of sky. She frowned and pulled her arms to her chest, involuntarily bowing her head to this grim vision of eternity.

Cracks in the roof funneled light in jagged shafts into the room, casting a web of tangled shadows across the concrete floor. Joe's eyes darted about the small, disheveled space. The walls were covered with bits of signs, deteriorating magazine images, and graffiti: a faded pin up girl, her flesh overexposed to the elements; a crumpled metal declaration that the road was not maintained by the county and one must therefore travel at one's own risk, stippled decoratively by bullets; six sets of railroad spikes bound together into crosses by something that looked disconcertingly like human hair; and on the wall adjacent to the entrance, a strange sprawl of spray paint seemingly guided by an unsteady hand:

"You have abandoned the one who lives in your presence and have spoken of the dead."

Flags, tits, crosses, cryptic gibberish—a real nut job for sure, Joe thought darkly. But they hadn't packed nearly enough water and 29 Palms was still at least an hour out.

The three figures stood together uneasily in the gloom. Reaching for a plastic gallon of water caked in sand and debris, the man began to speak in a languid and measured tone, as if picking back up on an unfinished conversation.

"The storms. He's trying to breathe new life into all this clay. Our clay, you see? He breathes out from his hiding place. All the way to the outer parts of the world, where the dead's all gathered together. An' there's gonna be a mighty breath coming in, one of these days. Mark my word! He's told John all 'bout it. Whispers at night. He moves the branches of the scrub brush together outside my window some evenings. He makes them click out secret letters. Like Morse Code. But I calls it 'Moses Code,' like after the Good Book..."

At this he erupted into a prolonged and seemingly painful wheeze of laughter, exceedingly pleased by his allusion to scripture.

"Now there's a dark spirit inside this land. Whole of America, I mean. It's mixed itself all up with the soil. It wants to rise up and live through everything that grows here. All them Indian bones down deep...they's a secret system of roots reaching 'cross the country...they push back against this spirit. They know it can't abide forever. But it feeds on all the pain that's clumped together, deep down there in the dark. The fear that followed 'em into the ground. I can hear them speaking in strange tongues. Talking one to the other, late at night. 'Specially in November. The month of saints."

He paused for an unsteady moment, the winds eagerly filling in the fleeting silence.

"Ya'll never know how many eyes are watching you...how many mouths speak for or against you...how many witnesses there are."

Another wheezing laugh, but this time shot through with a distinct tinge of melancholy.

His gaze turned suddenly and sharply toward Joe. "Ya'll come down from LA?"