Night has fallen heavy over Gun Hill, the dark of summer evening's blanket nudging up against the windows and, for those units where air conditioning has not been installed, creeping in through the panes of glass and remaining, nestled around sleepers who tug down their blankets without waking, registering the discomfort without stirring from their dreams.
One such person, both too lazy and too poor (and using the latter to justify the former) to put in an AC unit, one such dreamer, is Sable. Wearing her tanktop and Hello!Kitty underwear Magnes was smartass enough to buy for her (and she was smartass enough to deface with fabric markers, giving the adorable cartoon critter devil horns and fangs) she is far too hot even for just sheets, let alone her comforter.
Within her dream, though, the heat is interpreted in a wholly different way.
She walks along a long, dusty road towards the City. The mountains are bleak bones to her left, while an endless expanse of salt flat spreads off to her right. They sky is the color of faded jeans and the dust billows up, settling into the lines of Sable's face, deep lines. She's young, but she looks old. She's young, but she is old. She's been on this road for a long, long time. And up ahead, she can see a crossroads. Four stones and a sign made of sun-bleached wood mark the fact, though the desert and the path have long since worn thin along their borders. All Sable knows is that her feet are not sinking. Not yet. She still has something like firm footing.
"Ring around the rosie~"
"A pocket full of posies~"
"We all fall DOWN!!"
The voice is that of a child. Her singing carries over the wasteland, out of tune and cracking with thirst. The source? Up ahead at the crossroads, a little girl with springy red curls is winding her way around and around the signpost.
Her cotton sundress is has long grown gray-brown with dirt. As Sable comes closer she can see that the little waif is as dirty as the clothing she wears. She has no shoes on and her feet are blistered from wearing a path around the post. "Ring around the rosie~ A pocket full of posies~"
The wind picks up as Sable stops in her tracks, pressing at her back like some great hand, gently compelling her forward then, as she refuses to move, picking up in its intensity, tossing bits of grit against her bare arms and shoulders, biting into her skin, sinking still deeper into her, making more marks and lines, aging her.
The flair of red amongst the off white of the desolation has caught Sable's eye, and she's not sure what to make of it. Consciousness is always half-shaped in dreams, structured both by story and free association. And crossroads are places of no small symbolic weight in the addled mind of young Ms. Diego. Who is this child?
"Who are you?" is just what she says, the moment she forms the question, words and thoughts and things not having clear lines between them out here in the waste outside the City. Her voice is devoid of accent, save for a slight Atlanta twang, her performance not sitting so deep in her psyche as that.
"Ashes~ Ashes~" She skips a little faster, breaking one of the little blisters and turning the dirt on her feet to red mud for a moment before it too dries up. It's too hot for anything to stay wet for long. "We all fall DOWN!!"
The little girl jumps up and then falls to the ground. Laying there for a moment as if she was dead before getting up and repeating the same pattern. Like a skipping record. "Ring around the rooooosie~" This time, she's singing slower and when she winds her way around the pole to face Sable, she stops and looks up at her.
"Will you play with me?"
Sable is squinting because of the wind, because of the dust and grit. But the squint may also suggest her suspicion. The girl's peculiarity, the nightmarishness of her death and repetition, has the walking girl on edge. A redheaded girl at the crossroads. In the system of myth that is constantly forming and reforming in Sable's cauldron of a mind, this combination of elements is an omen. And, as omens can be, concurrently ominous.
"I got somewhere I'm tryin' to get to," is Sable's reply, slow, cautious. The wind starts to slap against her back, starting up and then dying down, only to leap at her again. "What is it you want? What game are you playing?"
"Plague." The little girl answers simply, like she's just been asked what her favorite kind of ice cream is. Looking up at the old woman, the redhead reaches out her tiny hand to grasp at the gnarled one. "Everything turns to dust. Everyone turns to ashes. That's what happens when the city goes boom, all the people turn to ashes."
As she grips the woman's hand, she grows an inch and some of the lines and wrinkles fade from Sable's skin. "We can play a different game if you want… I know a lot of songs." Letting go of the old woman's hand, she skips around the post singing a brand new one.
"A tisket a tasket~"
"A will in a wicker basket~"
"I found it~"
"I found it~"
"Before I died I found it~"
"That's some late 70's shit," Sable comments, yellow eyes, rung 'round with wrinkles, flicking down to her hand, looking desiccated but still soft, just lined with sand and… "dust on th' wind. That's Kansas, ain't it?" Her accent returning, from who knows where. Maybe because she's putting up her guard, because she needs something between her and the little, dirty girl who is taking her hand.
Sable wants to draw her hand back. But she can't. No reason she can find. Just a rule she has to play by. "No," she says, and the sound comes out like a cough as the wind vengefully gathers dust in her mouth, choking her momentarily, "no songs like that. I chose different songs. You can't be singin' songs like that. I ain't a kid no more. I don't sing those kinda songs."
The little girl stops and looks up at Sable curiously, slowly shaking her head. "No, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto." Her voice sounds grave and quite informative, like she's imparting the wisdom of the world in that one little sentence. Swinging around the post by one arm, the little girl grinds her dirty feet into the dust. She scuffs it up into little red mushroom clouds that settle a few minutes after they'd been raised. "I don't like your songs. I want to sing my songs."
She glances up at the sky, her bright blue eyes squinting angrily at the hot sun. Her scowl raises the wind further and at the same time, clouds begin to form. "It's too hot! I'm thirsty!!" Her little tongue darts out to run along her lips, wetting them. In defiance of the blistering heat, she begins to sing again.
"It's raining it's pouring~"
"The old man is snoring~"
"He fell out of bed and he bumped his head~"
"And he couldn't get up in the morning~"
Sure enough, large drops of rain begin to fall. It's slow, but at the first feel of them, the little girl stops her song and points her little head up to the sky. She opens her mouth wide and sticks her tongue out, trying to catch the water.
Rain, too, means something. Sable's eyes lift up, skyward, as the water descends from a bruise-colored sky. She doesn't recall those clouds being there. But they must have just been waiting over the horizon. Did they come from the City? Or did they come from Elsewhere? It hardly matters now.
"Only love…" Sable says, as the rain begins to fall, striking her wrinkled skin and starting to wash away the grime. The wrinkles, too, start to recede. A potent poetry, held close to her heart, makes this possible. Yellow eyes, under which trace lines of water like tears, like sweat, move back town to the little girl. "That who you are? Y' made it rain. Only love. That's how it goes."
Skipping around the pole once again, the little girl keeps singing loudly (and quite off key). The rain grows in intensity, clouding vision to a mere forty or so feet around. When her little legs are muddy to the knee and she begins to sink into the boggy muck, she stops and looks at Sable. "You don't look old anymore!" The exclamation is made with a gap toothed smile, she's missing her two front top ones. "Can you play with me now?"
The tiny redhead tries to pull her feet from her circular track, but they're stuck solid in the mud. There's a little whine from the girl as she reaches out for help, grabbing at the yellow eyed woman with her tiny hands. "Sing! Sing and make it stop! Please?"
Right in front of Sable's eyes, the little girl begins to sink into the ground. She stops midway up her calves but her breathing is already panting from panic.
Sable doesn't want the rain to stop. It's making her young. It's been a dry and dusty road, the nights she's spent apart alone, she want's to get back home to cool, cool rain…
But the little girl is sinking. And for a moment, Sable does not know what she is supposed to do. The rain means something. The girl means something. But she doesn't know which one means what… and what her choosing will portend. Yellow eyes, no longer framed with age, flick up and down, up and down, from the girl to the sky and back again.
"Here comes th' sun, dooten doot doot. Here comes th' sun, and I say… it's alright." Sable's voice picks up, a little cracked at first, dry. But as the water strikes her lips and wets her tongue, she sings more clearly…
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Slowly the rain dies down to a soft patter. There are breaks in the clouds, sending down beams of sunlight in odd patches one of them haloing the little redhead, turning her hair to a feiry color. It gleams off the sopping curls, drying them slowly as it does the mud around her feet.
Falling forward into the dirt, the little girl pulls herself from the muck and crawls toward Sable. When she reaches the woman's feet, she scrambles to a stand, looking completely cakes with red mud from her hips down. Her little white dress is ruined for all intents and purposes. It can't be washed, that's for certain.
"That's not the song I would have picked." She comments somberly. Of course not, it's not a children's song. Taking Sable's hand, she looks up at her with another smile as some more of the age is taken away from the yellow eyed woman. Before her very eyes, two little teeth begin to grow where the gaps were before.
Sable stares down at the girl who is taking on her years. Many of them to take. How did she get so old? She never intended. She was given twenty seven years on this earth to do something with her gift. To be all that she had hoped to be. Surpassing that age would be… breaking faith, breaking the covenant with herself. But those years are being peeled away. And this girl is aging before her eyes.
She is growing younger and younger by the moment, features smoothing, skin growing healthy and young. Sable stares at the red haired girl with amazement, uncertainty.
"What's this s'pposed t' tell me. I'm listenin'. I wanna know th' nature 'f, like, this omen. I wanna be in tune with th' universe. I fuckin' mean it. I'm a musician."
Looking up at Sable, the little girl cants her head to the side as though not quite understanding all of the questions. The little girl stops aging at twelve, already displaying some of the familiar features that she might have as an adult. She's still quite dirty but as she's grown taller, some of the caked mud has flaked away.
"You have a place you're trying to get to. Can I walk with you for a little while?" And without waiting for Sable's answer, she glances up at the sign and choses the direction they will go. East. Taking her first few steps, she glances over her shoulder for just a moment, waiting for the woman to tag along. "You already know everything it's supposed to tell you, it's inside of you somewhere. You just have to listen."
Sable finally moves, her feet no longer raising dust as the road beneath her feet has been swept clear of dust and sand. The stone is rough and cracked, but it is firm, and continues along the path the redheaded girl starts to take. The yellow eyed woman moves after the singing phantasm automatically, no hesitation. The dream is taking her this way. She doesn't even have to think about it. She's made her choice.
"I know you, sweetheart?" she says, stride, while short, still long enough to catch up with a twelve year old.
"Who is sweetheart?" The girl asks both cryptically and simply. She goes silent for a while as they amble along the beaten path, claiming one of the dirt ruts as her own while leaving the other to Sable to occupy. Up in the sky, the clouds begin to form into shapes, casting long shadows across the plains as they slowly pass over the sun.
The red dust comes up in little pillows as they walk and settles behind them masking their footsteps as though they never passed this way. While Sable is inclined to not focus on children's rhymes and songs, the young girl still has a few more to share.
"Goosey goosey gander where shall I wander~"
"Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber~"
"There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers~"
"I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs~"
When the horrible little song (in tune and lyric) ends, she looks up at Sable. "Who is sweetheart?"
Sable winces at the wrongness of the pitch. Her senses are acute even in dreaming. This could be her one real snobbery, besides her lumpenproletarian sense of righteousness. Her eyes drift up, away from the source of the sound… and catch on the clouds. She can see they look like something. But what these things are… it's like they're on the tips of her tongue, the edge of her mind.
"Sweetheart…" Sable says, distractedly, eyes still interrogating those clouds - what were they?, "is anyone who's sweet 'f heart… 'r bitter, 'n' yer makin' fun 'f 'em."